First Aid Advice On Dislocated Shoulder Or Separated Shoulder Injury

Shoulder injuries

Table of Contents

Two Types Of Shoulder Injuries

Dislocated shoulder versus a separated shoulder injury, they sound similar and are easy to confuse. However, a dislocated shoulder and a separated shoulder are two distinctly different injuries. 

Separated shoulder injuries: Despite the misnomer, this injury does not directly affect the shoulder joint. Instead, a tear to one of the ligaments that connect the collarbone to the shoulder blade occurs.

With the ligament damaged, the collarbone is no longer anchored in place and may move out of position and push against the skin near the top of the shoulder. In extreme cases, left untreated separated shoulders can cause deformity; however, people usually recover fully with time and treatment when the ligament repairs and is repositioned.

Dislocated shoulder injuries: Predominantly occur after a fall, collision, or externally applied force causes the top of your humerus bone to pop out of the shoulder socket. Unlike the knee and elbow joints, the shoulder is incredibly mobile and can even be hypermobile in some. 

You can twist and move your upper arm in almost any direction to a point within the cuff containing the humerus head. The shoulder joint is inherently unstable and prone to slipping out of place with little provocation in some people.

Baseball pitchers frequently dislocate their shoulders due to the repetitive range of force and motion that, over time, weaken and loosen or damage the muscles, ligaments and joint to the point they require surgical repair or replacement.

In severe cases of dislocated shoulder injuries, the tissue and nerves around the shoulder joint get damaged. Repeated shoulder dislocation injuries can result in chronic instability and weakness.

You might get a separated shoulder or dislocated shoulder by:

  • Motor vehicle accident

  • Falling onto your shoulder

  • Being hit in the shoulder by walking into a door jamb having not correctly judged the distance

  • Trying to break a fall with your hand and having your arm locked in a straight-arm position.

  • Dislocated shoulders can also result from a strong arm twisting, as in martial arts throws and take-down positions.

Sports that pose a significantly higher risk of acquiring these two injuries are:

  • Martial arts
  • Football
  • Baseball/Softball
  • Hockey
  • Rock climbing
  • Rugby
  • Pole vault
  • Ice skating
  • Volleyball

What Does It Feel Like to Have Dislocated or Separated Shoulder Injuries

Symptoms of a dislocated shoulder are:

  • Pain is severe in the shoulder and upper arm, making it difficult to move the arm.
  • Deformation of the shoulder-a bump in the front or back of your shoulder, depending on how the bone has been dislocated.

Symptoms of a separated shoulder are:

  • Bruising
  • Deformed shoulder
  • Intense pain as soon as the injury occurs
  • Tenderness of the shoulder and collarbone
  • Swelling

Call 000 if you have a weak pulse in the injured arm or if your arm and hand are numb, cold, pale, or blue, as the injury may have pinched closed your artery and will require prompt emergency surgery to correct.

Your physician will give you a thorough exam to diagnose a separated or dislocated shoulder. You may need X-rays to rule out broken bones and other conditions.

What Are The Treatment Options for A Dislocated Shoulder Or Separated Shoulder Injury

Dislocated shoulders need to be treated promptly. Your doctor will need to move the arm bone back into the shoulder socket using reduction techniques. Since the joint will get more swollen and more painful by the minute, the sooner a reduction can be done by a competent professional, the better. Once the humerus head slips back into the socket, a significant amount of the pain will reduce.

After the shoulder bone is repositioned, you can use pain relief, ice, and sling support treatment to reduce the pain, swelling and unnecessary movement while the injury heals in the first 24-48 hours. The same treatment would also be used for a separated shoulder.

To treat either injury, you should:

  • Ice your shoulder to reduce pain and swelling. Do it for 20-30 minutes every 3 to 4 hours for 2 to 3 days.
  • Practice stretching and strengthening exercises if your doctor or physio recommends them.
  • Use a sling or shoulder immobiliser to prevent further movement and injury until you get medical treatment. Then follow the doctor’s advice about whether to use a sling and for how long post the initial treatment.
  • Take anti-inflammatory painkillers. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or naproxen (Aleve), will help with pain and swelling. However, these drugs may have side effects, like an increased risk of bleeding, ulcers, heart attacks, and strokes. They should not be used for extended periods unless your doctor specifically says otherwise, as they can have addictive properties in some cases.
  • Surgery for severely separated shoulders is sometimes needed to repair the torn ligament. Afterwards, you will probably need to keep your arm in a sling for about six weeks and require physio exercises to restore muscle strength.
  • Surgery is sometimes needed for a severely dislocated shoulder to position the bones correctly. Surgery to tighten the ligaments surrounding the joint may help if you keep dislocating your shoulder.

What Is The Healing Time For A Dislocated Or Separated Shoulder

Everyone heals at a different rate depending on several factors. How quickly you recover depends on how serious your shoulder injury is, and how healthy and fit you are. Separated shoulders may heal over a period of six weeks. Dislocated shoulders may take from three to twelve weeks on average. 

Symptoms, like stiffness, may linger for some time. A separated shoulder can sometimes leave a permanent but painless bump on your shoulder.

Once the initial acute symptoms have passed, your doctor will probably want you to start rehabilitation and might refer you to a physiotherapist. Specific exercises given to you will make your shoulder muscles stronger and more limber. It will help you recover and reduce the chances of future shoulder injuries.

You might start with gentle stretching exercises that become more intense and involve resistance bands. But don’t start exercising without talking to your doctor first. If you try to shortcut the healing process, you only exacerbate the injury causing it not to heal but grow worse.

Ease back into your sport. People who play contact sports need to be especially careful that they are fully healed before returning. Padding or taping is also recommended for martial arts and full-contact sports as an added preventative measure. 

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