Dislocated shoulder: How to care for one

A dislocated shoulder occurs if the arm bone moves out of the shoulder socket. Even though the shoulder is highly versatile and mobile, it is still susceptible to injury. An injury might be due to a direct blow or excessive rotation.

The usual indications of the injury include:

  • Evident deformity
  • Abrupt swelling
  • Significant shoulder pain
  • Loss of movement

Caring for a dislocated shoulder


Anti-inflammatory medications might be prescribed by the doctor after sustaining a dislocated shoulder.

If an individual is suspected with a dislocated shoulder, there are measures that must be followed to promote healing.

  • Seek immediate medical care after the shoulder dislocates. Make sure that the injured arm is properly supported with either a sling or the opposite arm until the emergency department or doctor is reached.
  • Utilize an immobilizer for the shoulder for a minimum of 2-3 weeks, unless instructed otherwise by the doctor. This is a specialized form of sling that immobilizes the joint and keeps the arm close to the body. The instructions given by the doctor should be carefully followed. In most instances, it should be worn all day.
  • Anti-inflammatory medications might be prescribed by the doctor after sustaining a dislocated shoulder. In case the joint is evidently tender, pain medications might be prescribed as well.
  • Apply an ice pack on the affected shoulder for 20-30 minutes every 3-4 hours during the initial 2 weeks after the injury. An alternative is a bag of frozen vegetables. The cold helps in reducing the swelling as well as alleviating the pain in the area.
  • The individual should sleep in a position that allows him/her to protect the injured shoulder. If needed, utilized pillows or cushions to stop the body from tossing onto the damaged shoulder. In some cases, it might be needed to sleep in a slightly elevated position until the arm sling is taken out.
  • Carefully follow the rehabilitation program. This typically includes gentle exercises to stretch the shoulder and keep it mobile.

In case the shoulder regularly dislocates, it is best to seek immediate medical care as soon as possible to ensure the right placement.

Remember that it is not advisable to restore a dislocated shoulder back into place since this can lead to lasting damage to the joint. The individual should avoid engaging in any rigorous activity for at least 4 weeks after the injury.

Quick Note / Disclaimer

The material posted on this page on a dislocated shoulder is for learning and educational purposes only. To learn to recognize and manage this common type of dislocation, register for a first aid and CPR course with Kelowna First Aid.