APTA’s Shoulder Dislocation Guide by Jason Lunden, DPT, SCS

Excel Physical Therapy’s Jason Lunden, DPT, SCS wrote the following Move Forward Guide for the APTA.  We’re sharing it with you here. Click here to see the original article on the APTA website.


Physical Therapist’s Guide to Shoulder Dislocation:


  • What is a Shoulder Dislocation?
  • How Does it Feel?
  • How Can a Physical Therapist Help?
  • Can this Injury or Condition be Prevented?
  • Real Life Experiences
  • What Kind of Physical Therapist Do I Need?
  • Further Reading

A joint dislocation is a separation of 2 bones where they meet at a joint. Joints may dislocate when a sudden impact causes the bones in the joint to shift out of place. Because the shoulder is the most mobile joint in the body and has such a wide range of motion, it is more likely to dislocate than any other joint in the body. Dislocations are among the most common traumatic injuries affecting the shoulder.

A shoulder dislocation most often occurs during contact sports, but everyday accidents such as falls can also cause the joint to dislocate. Athletes, non-athletes, children, and adults can all dislocate their shoulders.

A dislocated shoulder usually requires the assistance of a health care professional to guide the joint back into place. After the joint is realigned, physical therapists direct the rehabilitation of your shoulder as you recover, and can help you prevent reinjury.

A shoulder dislocation requires immediate medical attention, especially if you have:

  • numbness in your arm or hand
  • discoloration of arm or hand
  • cold feelings in your arm

What is a Shoulder Dislocation?

The shoulder includes the clavicle (collar bone), scapula (shoulder blade), and humerus (upper-arm bone). The rounded top of the humerus and the cup-like end of the scapula fit together like a ball and socket. A shoulder dislocation can occur with an injury such as when you “fall the wrong way” on your shoulder or outstretched arm, forcing the shoulder beyond its normal range of movement and causing the humerus to come out of the socket. A dislocation can result in damage to many parts of the shoulder, including the bones, the ligaments, the labrum (the ring of cartilage that surrounds the socket), and the muscles and tendons around the shoulder joint.