Shoulder Instability

What is shoulder instability?

Shoulder instability means the joint becomes loose and is subsequently less resistant to injury, especially partial (subluxation) or total dislocation. Shoulder instability is usually caused by damage to the labrum or the ligaments that make up the capsule; this usually involves the ligaments being stretched or torn. The shoulder is a ball and socket joint; instability means the ball is no longer secured in the socket.

Effects and symptoms of shoulder instability

Shoulder instability makes the shoulder prone to injury and can result in continuous subluxations and dislocations; this will undoubtedly result in severe pain and will limit the activities in which an individual can participate.

Causes of shoulder instability

Shoulder instability usually occurs in 3 groups of people:

  • Previous dislocations: people who have previously dislocated their shoulder are more prone to instability in the future; this is due to the ligaments holding the joint in place not healing fully after the injury.
  • Athletes: athletes who repeatedly use their shoulders during overhead actions are prone to suffering from shoulder instability; examples of these sports include volleyball, swimming and baseball. Over the course of time, the ligaments may loosen causing the shoulder to become less stable. Young athletes are particularly at risk.
  • Connective tissue disorders (also known as being ‘double jointed’): people with ‘double jointed’ shoulders are prone to shoulder instability; this is due to the increased looseness in the joints which can make them less resistant to injury.

Treatment for shoulder instability

Treatment will usually depend on the nature and severity of the injury. In many cases, physiotherapy will be used to strengthen the muscles and connective tissue surrounding the joint; this will make them more resistant to injury. In tandem with this, the shoulder should be rested sufficiently and medication to control swelling and pain will speed up recovery. If symptoms persist and the injury is prohibiting normal movements, an individual may undergo surgery; surgery can tighten the ligaments surrounding the joint as well as repairing tears or damage to the ligaments.

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