rotator cuff Hampton RoadsThe shoulder is one of the largest and most complex joints in the body. It is also considered the most moveable joint in the body. The shoulder joint is able to rotate, turn in different directions, helps to move your arm, and also helps you reach over your head. Because of the mobility of the shoulder, it is more likely to experience instability an injury. Here are 3 things you should know about shoulder instability.

What causes the instability?

In general, shoulder instability often follows an injury which caused the shoulder to dislocate. When the shoulder is dislocated it must be reduced or manually put back into the socket. After sustaining this injury, the shoulder may seem to function normally but the shoulder joint still remains unstable because the ligaments that hold the shoulder in the socket, may have become stretched or torn when it was dislocated. Once you have sustained this type of injury, the unstable shoulder is likely to experience repeated episodes of dislocation. Instability can also follow less severe shoulder injuries.

Instability to the shoulder joint can also be followed by less severe shoulder injuries. Athletes that experience repetitive strain and injury to the ligaments in the shoulder are at higher risk of instability. Baseball pitchers, volleyball players, and swimmers may experience shoulder instability due to the joint capsule being stretched out resulting in the muscles surrounding the joint to be weak and potentially allow the shoulder to slip out of place.

Signs of Shoulder Instability

If you have dislocated your shoulder or are an athlete that puts strain on your shoulder joints, be aware of the signs that recurrent shoulder instability can cause. Some of the signs include:

  • Pain and irritation in the shoulder
  • Weakness in the shoulder
  • Shoulder repeatedly becoming dislocated
  • Shoulder repeatedly “Subluxates” which is when the shoulder only partially dislocates
  • Weakness in the shoulder
  • Repeated instances of the shoulder giving out
  • “Clicking”, “popping”, or “catching” in the shoulder

What treatments are available?

If you have experienced any of the above, you should see an orthopaedic specialist for treatment. Shoulder instability is most often treated with nonsurgical options and if those do not work, surgery may be needed.

Nonsurgical treatment options include:

  • Activity Modification. You must make some changes in your lifestyle and avoid activities that aggravate your symptoms.
  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication. Drugs like aspirin and ibuprofen reduce pain and swelling.
  • Physical Therapy. Strengthening shoulder muscles and working on shoulder control can increase stability.

If the nonsurgical treatment options have not worked, surgery may be necessary to repair the torn or stretched ligaments. There are two surgical techniques that may be used by your orthopaedic surgeon depending on the severity of the injury.

Surgical treatment options include: 

  • Arthroscopic surgery.  Arthroscopic surgery is a minimally invasive approach that uses small incisions to repair the damaged soft tissue. Your orthopaedic surgeon will look inside the shoulder with a tiny camera and perform the surgery with specialized instrumentation.
  • Open Surgery. Arthroscopic surgery is not always the best approach for every patient. Some patients may need an open surgical procedure which will allow your surgeon to repair the torn or stretched ligaments under direct visualization of the injuries.  Unlike Arthroscopic surgery, this open surgery involves making a larger incision over the shoulder.

If you have experienced any of the signs related to shoulder instability, call our office at (757) 873-1554 to schedule an appointment with Dr. Alexander Lambert, Orthopaedic Sports Medicine Specialist!