Dislocated Shoulder aka Shoulder Subluxation

The human shoulder is the most mobile joint of the body. In the typical healthy shoulder, most people have at least 160 degrees of shoulder elevation. They are able to reach straight out to the side of their head and with exertion can get their arm at least 5-10 degrees behind that. This would be like sitting on the couch and fully stretching your arm out to your side to grab the remote from on top of the backrest. Most people can also reach behind their head and touch their scapula (shoulder blade), and they can touch the center of their low back pretty easily. Because of all this mobility the shoulder is sometimes subluxed, or partially dislocated.

When a person subluxes their shoulder, the head of the humerus temporarily loses some level of contact with the glenoid fossa of the scapula. Typically this injury happens when a person’s arm is overhead or out to the side and an anterior force is applied. The glenohumeral joint capsule, rotator cuff muscles, labrum, and other surrounding soft tissues may sustain damage during the injury. All of these structures help to stabilize the shoulder as seen below.

Physical therapy treatment following a should subluxation is dependent on what results are found during the initial examination. Most individuals will benefit from some level of passive manual stretching followed by range of motion exercises, then rotator cuff strengthening. The shoulder should be protected from re-injury during treatment at all times. The amount of time spent doing the different type of exercises is based on each individual’s case (Wilk et al.). Various modalities will be used at therapy to help with the pain and soreness during the healing process.

If you are experiencing shoulder pain with or without loss of mobility and flexibility, let one of our Physical Therapists at Elite Physical Therapy and Balance Center evaluate your injury and create a customized plan to fit your needs and schedule. It is our goal to get you to Feel Better Faster!

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Wilk KE, Macrina LC, Reinold MM. Non-Operative Rehabilitation for Traumatic and Atraumatic Glenohumeral Instability. N Am J Sports Phys Ther. 2006 Feb; 1(1): 16–31.


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