By Adrian Benne
The shoulder is our body’s most mobile joint with an incredible range of flexibility. However, this large range of mobility does come at a cost, as to have increased mobility you must sacrifice some stability. Other joints in the body have increased stability thanks to the tight structure of bones and ligaments that make them up, but the demands of everyday life such as reaching objects on a high shelf, throwing a ball or even putting on a t-shirt requires a very large range of movement from our shoulder. This means there is reduced surface area for bones and ligaments to make contact and keep the shoulder in place, causing the shoulder to be placed at a higher degree of risk for dislocations.
What is a shoulder dislocation? How does it happen?
As the name implies, a shoulder dislocation is when the head of our upper arm (humerus) is moved out of its normal anatomical position within the shoulder socket (glenoid). The position of dislocation is usually with the arm raised in a ‘high-five’ position with the arm being forced backwards. As flexibility between people varies, some people are at a higher risk of dislocation than others as they could potentially dislocate without much force. Others may have stiffer shoulders that would require great traumatic force to cause a dislocation.
What should I do if I dislocate my shoulder?
An initial dislocation is generally the most serious. The shoulder may move back into its normal position by itself after the injury (known as spontaneous relocation), if it does not, a trained health professional will need to assess the type of dislocation before relocating it. It is not uncommon for a fracture to occur on either the head of the upper arm or the shoulder socket during a dislocation or relocation procedure, so an x-ray should be taken to rule out a fracture.
What can a physiotherapist do to help?
A physiotherapist will first provide you with advice on the best approach to allow the shoulder to heal in the early phase. Structures in the shoulder will be damaged following a dislocation so there will be a period of immobilisation and protection to allow healing to occur.
Follow this, it is highly important to commence a shoulder strengthening and stabilising program to allow the shoulder to return to optimal function. This in turn will assist in preventing recurrent dislocations, one of the biggest complications following an initial dislocation.