Shoulder dislocation vs shoulder subluxation

As the shoulder is the largest and one of the most used joints in the body, it is prone to a wide range of injuries. Two common injuries which can arise are shoulder dislocation and shoulder subluxation. So, what is the difference between the two and what treatment options are available?

Shoulder dislocation

A shoulder dislocation occurs when the ball of the joint completely separates away from the socket. It’s a fairly common injury due to how shallow the socket is. It doesn’t take much force for the ball to be knocked out of the socket and most patients tend to suffer from an anterior dislocation. This is where the ball comes out of the socket and is pushed towards the front.

Shoulder dislocations tend to occur due to a fall as the basic instinct is to put your arm out to stop yourself as you hit the ground. The force of the fall can then dislocate the shoulder.

Shoulder subluxation

A shoulder subluxation is actually a kind of dislocation, only the ball and socket don’t fully separate. Instead, they remain connected but severely out of alignment.

This type of injury usually occurs if there has been some form of damage to the tendons or muscles surrounding the ball and socket. An injury, such as a torn rotator cuff, can lead to the weakening of the ball and socket, allowing them to slip out of alignment. As the ball and socket aren’t completely separated, there is the possibility they could pop back into place by themselves.

As shoulder subluxation and shoulder dislocation can cause very similar symptoms, it can be difficult to know which one a patient is suffering with. Therefore, a proper diagnosis by a shoulder specialist is crucial to determine which type of treatment is required.

How are shoulder dislocation and subluxations treated?

If your shoulder is dislocated, it is really important not to try and pop it back into place yourself. There have been many instances on television, where you see people popping their own shoulders back into place. However, if done incorrectly, it could actually damage the muscles and ligaments of the shoulder joint. So, it is much safer to pop the arm into a sling until you can get to the doctor or shoulder specialist.

You will be given an assessment and potentially an x-ray to determine whether you are suffering from a dislocation or subluxation. From there, your shoulder specialist will be able to see the true extent of the injury and they will be able to assist in popping the shoulder back into place before a treatment plan is created.

Depending upon the extent of the dislocation, the specialist may decide to pop it back into place while the patient is under general anaesthetic. Once it is in place, a sling will usually need to be worn for a few weeks while it heals and sets back into place.

Overall, shoulder dislocations and subluxations are similar injuries, but subluxations are typically less severe. If you’re worried you may be suffering from a dislocation, it’s extremely important to visit a shoulder specialist before attempting to treat it.