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Nonsurgical Treatment for Shoulder Dislocation

After a shoulder dislocation, your doctor at NYU Langone performs a procedure called closed reduction to reconnect the joint. Often, this procedure takes place in a hospital.

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If a first-time shoulder dislocation hasn’t damaged ligaments or other soft tissues, your doctor may recommend ice, immobilization, and anti-inflammatory medication to relieve pain and swelling. After pain and swelling have been alleviated, our doctors work closely with specialists at NYU Langone’s Rusk Rehabilitation to ensure that you rebuild muscle strength, improve flexibility, and recover a full range of motion.

The time it takes for full recovery depends on the severity of the injury, but most people recover within weeks or months.

Closed Reduction

Most people who experience a shoulder dislocation seek immediate treatment in an emergency room, where a doctor can put the round end of the arm bone, or humerus, back into place without surgery. Using a procedure called a closed reduction, the doctor administers local anesthesia to ease pain, then manually repositions the humerus into the shoulder socket.

After a dislocated shoulder has been repositioned, or reduced, pain lessens almost immediately. Closed reduction takes about 30 minutes to perform, and you can expect to return home with an hour of the procedure.

If a shoulder has been dislocated more than once, the soft tissues that stabilize the shoulder may no longer hold the humerus firmly in the socket. This can be confirmed using diagnostic tests, such as MRI scans. In these instances, doctors may discuss the possibility of surgery to tighten or repair the torn or stretched ligaments that hold the joint in place.

Immobilization and Icing

A dislocated shoulder that has been put back into place remains swollen and sore for several days. Resting the shoulder and applying an ice pack reduces inflammation and eases pain.

Doctors recommend using a sling or brace to immobilize the affected arm and shoulder for four to six weeks to allow the muscles and other soft tissues to rest and heal.

During the first 2 days, applying an ice pack to the shoulder 3 times a day for 15 to 20 minutes may reduce swelling and ease pain. If swelling has not gone down, you can continue this icing routine for one or two more days.

Pain Relief Medication

A dislocated shoulder may cause a dull, aching pain in the joint. Inflammation in the soft tissues surrounding the injury causes some of this discomfort. Doctors may recommend a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) to relieve inflammation and reduce pain.

Many NSAIDs, including ibuprofen and naproxen, are available over the counter at drugstores. Side effects of NSAIDs may include upset stomach or ulcers, and doctors don’t advise long-term use.

Physical Therapy

After any period of immobilization, muscles weaken and become less flexible. Doctors recommend physical therapy to rebuild muscle, improve stability in the shoulder, and prevent further injury.

At NYU Langone’s Rusk Rehabilitation, physical therapists who specialize in working with people who have shoulder injuries create a recovery plan based on your daily routine, the type of injury that occurred, and your physical goals.

Doctors recommend four to six weeks of physical therapy as part of a treatment plan for a shoulder dislocation, but recovery time depends on a person’s age, overall health, whether the shoulder has been injured before, and the severity of a dislocation.

A physical therapist shows you simple exercises designed to stretch and strengthen the muscles surrounding the shoulder, including those in the arm and upper back. If these muscles are weak, the joint itself bears more weight during movement. Developing strong muscles creates an internal “brace” for the shoulder joint.

Physical therapy can also increase flexibility and restore range of motion. Adding these simple exercises to your daily routine makes arm movements easier and alleviates pain. Strengthening shoulder muscles can also help prevent a future shoulder dislocation.

Our physical therapists also offer massage therapy, heat and ice therapies, and acupuncture as a part of a plan to enhance your overall wellbeing as you recover.

Our Research and Education in Shoulder Dislocation

Learn more about our research and professional education opportunities.