A gunshot wound is caused by a projectile from any type of firearm which can be accidental or intentional. A gunshot wound might have only an entry wound or sometimes an exit wound.
The degree of damage and severity of the injuries depends on the bullet and firearm, path of the projectile and type of tissue involved.
Common shoulder injuries from a gunshot wound
The shoulder is comprised of bones, joints, soft tissues, muscles, blood vessels and nerves in a narrow area. Any damage can lead to impairment of these structures and the consequences tend to vary depending on the affected part.
Soft tissue injuries
The soft tissues such as the muscles, cartilage and ligaments that surround the shoulder joint might end up damaged from a gunshot wound. In most instances, surgical exploration is required immediately along with debridement of the damaged tissues. Other injuries are also identified and fixed.
Damage to the shoulder joint
If a gunshot wound involves the articulation of the shoulder joint, immediate assessment is needed to rule out the presence of bullet fragments. If fragments are detected, procedures utilizing arthroscopic techniques are performed.
For fractures to the humerus, there is a possibility that the arteries supplying the hands are damaged. Further assessment is required to detect these injuries.
Damage to the nerves in the shoulder region can occur. Any damage to the nerves can lead to neurological defects and necessitates proper care. Essentially, these neurological deficits from nerve injury are expected to recover after a few months.
Emergency care for shoulder injuries from a gunshot wound
Since the precise injury is not yet established, immediate care for a gunshot wound to the shoulder area should be carried out with care. The overall condition of the individual is assessed by checking the airway, breathing, pulse, blood pressure and level of consciousness.
If bleeding is present, place direct pressure to control it. In addition, elevating the affected arm and applying a pressure bandage might be needed. In case swelling is evident, internal bleeding is likely and possible damage to the joint and bone. In such instances, splinting is required to immobilize the area to prevent further damage and promote healing.
Quick Note / Disclaimer
The material posted on this page on a gunshot wound to the shoulder is for learning and educational purposes only. To learn to recognize and manage shoulder injuries, register for a first aid and CPR course with Kelowna First Aid.