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Shoulder Instability

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The most dynamic joint in the body, the shoulder performs many motions to help you get through your day and enjoy a range of recreational activities. When problems arise in this area, some of the issues that can develop include loss of mobility, pain, and weakness. Less active people and athletes alike can experience shoulder dysfunction, including shoulder instability, although patients who play sports are often at a greater risk of injury. Shoulder instability is often initially caused by an injury that leads to shoulder displacement, which can then become a chronic condition over time. If you notice discomfort, reduced strength, or another symptom, our orthopaedic surgeons can diagnose and help treat your concern.

What Is Shoulder Instability?

Shoulder instability occurs when the upper arm bone (humerus) becomes forced out of the shoulder socket, which can happen from an injury or as a result of overuse. Once this dislocation between socket and arm bone occurs it becomes much easier for it to happen again in the future. If dislocation happens repeatedly, it’s called shoulder instability. Symptoms of shoulder instability include:

  • Sudden pain caused by a shoulder injury
  • A persistent sensation of looseness in the shoulder joint
  • Repeated shoulder dislocations
  • Repeated instances of the shoulder “giving out”

Some people naturally have flexible tendons and ligaments, which can exacerbate instability issues. During your examination, our doctors will check for this situation, and they may request X-rays or other imaging tests to diagnose your condition. Once we have identified your concern, our medical team will develop a customized treatment plan to help you regain strength, mobility, and comfort.

Shoulder Instability Treatment

We typically approach shoulder instability with non-surgical treatment first, as these methods can often provide noticeable benefits. If chronic instability does not improve with time, surgery may be recommended. You and your orthopaedic surgeon will discuss your preferences, lifestyle habits, and medical options to arrive at the best option for you.

Non-Surgical Shoulder Instability Treatment

The most common non-surgical techniques for shoulder instability are the same for most shoulder conditions and typically include rest, activity modification, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication to reduce pain and swelling, and physical therapy. It often takes several months of this type of treatment to begin to feel the effects, so we urge patience as we work to address your issues. If after a period of trying non-surgical methods proves ineffective, we can discuss surgical options.

Surgical Treatment for Shoulder Instability

Our extensively trained orthopaedic shoulder surgeons utilize the most advanced techniques to improve shoulder stability, including arthroscopic shoulder surgery. This method uses small incisions and a tiny camera to guide surgery and achieve the desired outcome. While traditional open surgery means using a large incision, arthroscopic surgery can reduce downtime, scarring, and discomfort. If this procedure is recommended for your condition, our medical team will review what to expect during your consultation.

Recovery from Shoulder Surgery

The process of healing is different for every person, and we are here to help make your experience as pleasant and swift as possible. After shoulder surgery, you should be able to return home the same day, although you will need someone to drive you home and stay with you overnight. You will have a bandage, sling, and possibly an immobilizer to limit movement and aid the healing process. Prescription medication will be provided to enhance your comfort, but some pain is to be expected for the first week or so. Physical therapy is often recommended, and you will learn stretches and exercises to restore shoulder strength and function. In general, you should plan for recovery to take about four to six months, with a gradual increase in the types of activities you can participate in. Our surgeons will provide detailed guidelines and you are welcome to talk to us at any time with any questions that arise.

Our medical team is standing by to help. Talk to us today to learn more about shoulder instability and the treatment options that are now available.