Dislocated shoulder treatment involves putting your shoulder bones back into place. Your doctor may try some gentle maneuvers to help your shoulder bones back into their proper positions — a process called closed reduction. Depending on the amount of pain and swelling, you may need a muscle relaxant or sedative or, rarely, a general anesthetic before manipulation of your shoulder bones.
When your shoulder bones are back in place, any severe pain should improve almost immediately. However, your doctor may immobilize your shoulder with a special splint or sling for several weeks. How long you wear the splint or sling depends on the nature of your shoulder dislocation. Your doctor may also prescribe a pain reliever or a muscle relaxant to keep you comfortable while your shoulder heals.
Regaining your strength
After your shoulder splint or sling is removed, you'll begin a gradual rehabilitation program designed to restore range of motion and strength to your shoulder joint. Avoid strenuous activity involving your injured shoulder until you've regained full movement and normal strength and stability in your shoulder.
If you've experienced a fairly simple shoulder dislocation without major nerve or tissue damage, your shoulder joint likely will return to a near-normal or fully normal condition. But trying to resume activity too soon after shoulder dislocation may cause you to injure your shoulder joint or to dislocate it again.
If your doctor can't move your dislocated shoulder bones back into position by closed reduction, surgical manipulation (open reduction) may be necessary. You may need surgery if you have a weak shoulder joint or ligaments and tend to have recurring shoulder dislocations (shoulder instability). In rare cases, you may need surgery if your nerves or blood vessels are damaged due to the dislocation.
Try these steps to help ease discomfort and encourage healing after being treated for a dislocated shoulder:
- Rest your shoulder. Don't repeat the specific action that caused your shoulder to dislocate, and try to avoid painful movements. Limit heavy lifting or overhead activity until your shoulder starts to feel better.
- Apply ice and heat. Putting ice on your shoulder helps reduce inflammation and pain. Use a cold pack, a bag of frozen vegetables or a towel filled with ice cubes for 15 to 20 minutes at a time. Do this every couple of hours the first day or two. After about two or three days, when the pain and inflammation have improved, hot packs or a heating pad may help relax tightened and sore muscles. Limit heat applications to 20 minutes.
- Take pain relievers. Over-the-counter (OTC) nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as aspirin, ibuprofen or may help reduce pain. paracetamol also may help relieve pain. Follow label directions and stop taking the drugs when the pain improves.
- Maintain the range of motion of your shoulder. After one or two days, do some gentle exercises as directed by your doctor or physiotherapist to help maintain your shoulder's range of motion. Total inactivity can cause stiff joints. In addition, favoring your shoulder for a long period of time can lead to frozen shoulder, a condition in which your shoulder becomes so stiff you can barely move it.
Once your injury heals and you have good range of motion in your shoulder, continue exercising. Daily shoulder stretches and a balanced shoulder-strengthening program can help prevent a recurrence of dislocation. Your doctor or a physiotherapist can help you plan an appropriate exercise routine.