Brief Outline of Shoulder Subluxation

The shoylder complex enables extreme mobility due to its anatomical structure, but provides little stability. Shoulder subluxation is a partial dislocation of the ball-and-socket joint of the shoulder. A group of ligaments securely hold the humerus (upper arm bone) in the socket of the shoulder-blade or scapula. Should these ligaments be torn, subluxation may result, in which the ball of the humerus slips partially out of the shoulder socket.

Dislocated Shoulder

Anatomy and physiology

The shoulder region is actually composed of five joints: the sternoclavicular (SC) joint, the acromioclavicular (AC) joint, the coracoclavicular joint, the glenohumeral joint, and the scapulothoracic joint, where the shoulder-blade glides on the chest wall. The articulation referred to specifically as the shoulder joint is the glenohumeral joint, whereas the other articulations are joints of the shoulder girdle. The structure of the shoulder permits a wide arrange of motion, allowing the positioning of the arm and hand. Instability in the shoulder joint complex, particularly following dislocation, can result in subluxation.

Cause of shoulder subluxation

A direct blow to the shoulder. A fall onto an outstretched arm. Strenuously forcing the arm into an awkward position.

Signs and symptoms

Sensation of the shoulder going in and out of joint. Looseness of the shoulder joint. Pain, weakness, or numbness in the shoulder or arm.

Complications if left unattended

Untreated subluxation can cause wear, and ultimately damage the internal structures of the shoulder, sometimes requiring surgery. Loss of mobility, ongoing pain, and osteoarthritic complications may result from untreated subluxation.


  • Physiotherapy
  • Surgery to repair the labrum

Rehabilitation and prevention

Following immobilisation and healing, strengthening exercises should be undertaken. Recovery depends on factors including the athlete’s age, health, history of previous injury, and severity of subluxation. If the shoulder subluxes frequently during activity, significant physical rehabilitation will be needed and possibly invasive surgery.

Long-term prognosis

Normal sports activity may be resumed once a full range of motion without subluxation has been achieved. Prognosis is dependent on the severity of the subluxation and the athlete’s particular history. Subluxation is often due to previous shoulder injury and returning to athletics before full recovery can lead to further and worsening subluxation.

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