My shoulder feels ‘loose!’ Shoulder Dislocation and Instability

Athletes or anyone who performs overhead repetitive motions with their arms can be vulnerable to shoulder problems like dislocation (ball pops out of the socket) or instability (shoulder joint moves slightly in and out of the socket), feeling "loose." Volleyball players, swimmers, racquet sport players, baseball players, and double-jointed people are especially prone to these conditions. Trauma victims can also get these types of shoulder injuries.

Once instability or dislocation happens, it's more likely to happen again because the tendons and ligaments around the joint have been stretched beyond the normal range or damaged. Nerve damage can also occur.

Instability symptoms may include:

  • Joint feeling like it is moving around too much
  • Pain
  • Swelling, numbness, weakness, and bruising

Dislocation symptoms may include the above, plus:

  • Severe pain while the joint is dislocated
  • Observing that the ball of the joint is not in its socket

A shoulder can become dislocated in a forward, backward, or downward direction. If you pop the shoulder back into joint yourself, tell your doctor which direction your dislocation happened in, and whether you have dislocated it before.

Your orthopedic doctor will do a thorough physical examination and take images of your shoulder to find out how damaged your shoulder is. Once that's clear, he or she will design a treatment program to get you back to health. In most cases this will involve one or more of the following: temporary or permanent activity modification, anti-inflammatory and/or pain medicine, injections, and physical therapy. More severely damaged shoulders may require surgery to repair tendons and structures that cannot be rehabilitated with conservative treatments.