Shoulder dislocations are the result of extreme force pulling your upper arm bone out of the shoulder socket. The injury is often suffered while playing sports or after an event such as a car accident. The shoulder dislocation healing process includes treatment, immobilization and rehabilitation. In total, it may be four to six months before you're well enough to resume all former activities.
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A shoulder dislocation occurs when the head of the humerus bone of your upper arm, called the ball, pops out of the socket of your shoulder blade. Sometimes, only a portion of the ball comes out, resulting in a partially dislocated shoulder. Typically, either condition is a result of trauma, sports injuries or falls. Signs and symptoms of a dislocated should include a visible deformity of the joint, intense pain, swelling, bruising and an inability to move your shoulder.
Surgery is rarely needed to treat your first shoulder dislocation. If you have suffered multiple dislocations, surgery can be an option. Most first-time dislocations are treated with a closed reduction. During a closed reduction, the head of the humerus is moved back into the shoulder socket by applying traction to your arm. You will usually be given a muscle relaxant, sedative or pain medication before the procedure.
After the reduction, your shoulder needs to be immobilized. Your doctor will apply a sling or shoulder immobilizer. These devices will prevent you from moving your shoulder and will allow the joint time to heal properly. Immobilization usually lasts about four weeks.
Once the sling is removed, you will begin an exercise regimen to regain the strength and range of motion in your shoulder. A straightforward dislocation without any tissue or nerve damage can heal well, and the shoulder can return to its previous condition. However, returning to physical activity too soon or participating in strenuous activity during your rehabilitation period can cause injury or possibly a second dislocation. Full recovery from a shoulder dislocation can take several months.
You should not put any strain on the shoulder joint during or immediately following immobilization. After being treated, apply ice to the shoulder for 15 to 20 minutes, four times a day, for the first two days. On the third day, use a heating pad for no more 20 minutes at a time. This process helps to reduce pain and swelling, and relieves muscle soreness. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory pain medications can also be used to help treat any pain.