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Dislocated Shoulder and Separated Shoulder

What's the Treatment for Dislocated Shoulder or Separated Shoulder?

Dislocated shoulders need to be treated right away. Your doctor will need to move the arm bone back into the shoulder socket. Since the joint will get more swollen and more painful by the minute, the sooner the better. Once the arm bone is back in the socket, some of the pain will go away.

After the shoulder bone is repositioned, you can use conservative treatment to reduce pain and swelling. The same treatment would also be used for a separated shoulder.

To treat either injury, you should:

  • Ice your shoulder to reduce pain and swelling. Do it for 20-30 minutes every three to four hours, for two to three days or longer.
  • Use a sling or shoulder immobilizer to prevent further injury until you get medical treatment. Then follow the doctor's advice about whether or not to use a sling.
  • Take anti-inflammatory painkillers. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDS, like Advil, Aleve, or Motrin, will help with pain and swelling. However, these drugs may have side effects, like an increased risk of bleeding and ulcers. They should be used only occasionally, unless your doctor specifically says otherwise.
  • Practice stretching and strengthening exercises if your doctor recommends them.

Most of the time, these treatments will do the trick. But in rare cases, you may need surgery.

Surgery for severe separated shoulders is sometimes needed to repair the torn ligament. Afterwards, you will probably need to keep your arm in a sling for about six weeks.

For a severely dislocated shoulder, surgery is sometimes needed to correctly position the bones. If you keep dislocating your shoulder, surgery to tighten the tendons surrounding the joint may help.

When Will my Dislocated or Separated Shoulder Feel Better?

How quickly you recover depends on how serious your shoulder injury is. Separated shoulders may resolve after six weeks. Dislocated shoulders may take longer -- more like three to 12 weeks. But these are just rough estimates. Everyone heals at a different rate.

Some symptoms, like stiffness, may linger for a time. A separated shoulder can sometimes leave a permanent, but painless, bump on your shoulder.

Once the acute symptoms are gone, your doctor will probably want you to start rehabilitation. This will make your shoulder muscles stronger and more limber. It will both help you recover and reduce the chances of future shoulder injuries.

You might start with gentle stretching exercises that become more intense as you get better. But don't start exercising without talking to your doctor first.

Whatever you do, don't rush things. Ease back into your sport. If you play baseball, start by tossing the ball and work up to throwing at full speed. People who play contact sports need to be especially careful that they are fully healed before playing again.

Don't try to return to your previous level of physical activity until:

  • You can move your injured shoulder as freely as your uninjured shoulder.
  • Your injured shoulder feels as strong as your uninjured shoulder.

If you start using your shoulder before it's healed, you could cause permanent damage. Getting back in the game early is not worth the risk of a lifelong disability.

WebMD Medical Reference

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