March 11, 2020

What is a partial and a complete shoulder dislocation?


Shoulder dislocations are usually caused by trauma or sports injuries. When your shoulder falls completely out of place, it’s called a complete shoulder dislocation. However, sometimes the blow to your body only partially knocks the ball of your arm out of your shoulder socket. When this happens, it’s called a partial shoulder dislocation or a shoulder subluxation.

Learn more about how a patient recovered from a shoulder dislocation injury

Anatomy of the Shoulder

Two joints make up the shoulder. Your acromioclavicular joint connects your shoulder blade (scapula) to your collarbone (clavicle). This joint allows you to raise your arm above your head.

Your glenohumeral joint is a ball and socket joint. It connects the top of your upper arm, your humeral head (ball), to part of the scapula called the glenoid (socket). It gives you the ability to rotate your shoulder in a circle and move it up and out from your body. If your shoulder dislocates, this is the joint affected.

How does a dislocation of the shoulder occur?

Both partial and complete shoulder dislocations are caused by some sort of accident. Your shoulder is the most mobile joint in your body, moving up and down and side to side. Because of this, it’s usually the most common joint to experience dislocation. If you are highly active, you are more likely to dislocate your shoulder.

  • Trauma, including car accidents
  • A sports injury 
  • A stroke 
  • Falling on your shoulder or outstretched arm

Can you partially dislocate a shoulder?

There are two major kinds of shoulder dislocation you may experience: a partial and complete shoulder dislocation. For any shoulder dislocation, you should seek medical attention, so you can receive proper care.

  • Shoulder subluxation/partial shoulder dislocation: This is when the ball of your upper arm only partially comes out of your shoulder socket. You may have to pop your joint back into its socket, but sometimes, it may pop back in by itself.
  • Complete shoulder dislocation: This is when your upper arm bone pops completely out of your shoulder socket and it must be popped back in. Depending on your level of pain, you may be able to pop it back in yourself. If it’s too painful, wait for a physician to help you. Once your shoulder has popped out of place completely, it’s more likely for it to loosen again.

How do you know if you dislocated your shoulder?

Two of the most common indicators that your shoulder is out of place are pain and visible misplacement or your shoulder looking deformed. For a subluxation, the latter may be a little harder to identify because the ball of your upper arm is still partially in the shoulder socket.

There are some other symptoms that may indicate you dislocated your shoulder:

  • A visibly displaced shoulder
  • Pain
  • Swelling or bruising
  • Numbness or tingling in your arm
  • Difficulty with joint movement
  • Weakness
  • Instability

Learn more about how to tell if you dislocated your shoulder

How do you fix a dislocated shoulder?

If your shoulder becomes partially or completely dislocated, the first thing you need to do is put your shoulder back into place. The fastest way to heal a dislocated shoulder is to follow your physician’s recommendations to reduce your inflammation and pain.

  • Rest
  • Ice
  • Elevate
  • Over the counter anti-inflammatory medications
  • Splint/Brace

Can a dislocated shoulder heal without surgery?

You may be wondering, “Is surgery is required for a dislocated shoulder?” A partial dislocation will not require surgery or additional treatment. However, some complete shoulder dislocations may need more treatment after it’s placed back in the socket. Your physician may need to pop your shoulder into place for you and depending on how painful it is, you may need a muscle relaxer or sedative. 

Additional treatment may include:

  • Surgery
  • Immobilization
  • Medication
  • Rehabilitation

Surgery is only needed when your shoulder joint or the ligaments are weak and shoulder dislocations are chronic. Keeping your shoulder immobilized for a week or two while you recover will help it heal faster, sometimes coupled with muscle relaxers. Once your shoulder is feeling a little bit better, you can begin building strength back up through rehabilitation and physical therapy.

How do you prevent a dislocated shoulder?

Shoulder dislocations are usually the result of a fall or overuse injury. If you are being careful in situations when you could fall and you are exercising regularly, you are taking healthy precautions against a dislocation. However, once you have dislocated your shoulder, whether partial or complete, it’s more likely you will re-injure your shoulder. Continue your stability exercises to keep your shoulder healthy. 

Learn more about shoulder treatment options at OrthoIndy

Schedule an appointment 

Your well-being is important to us. Click the button below or call us to schedule an appointment with one of our orthopedic specialists. If your injury or condition is recent, you can walk right into one of our  OrthoIndy Urgent Care locations  for immediate care. For rehabilitation and physical therapy, no referral is needed to  see one of our physical therapists

Schedule an Appointment Call OrthoIndy 317.802.2000

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