Shoulder Instability


What Is Shoulder Instability?

Chronic shoulder instability is a condition where the head or top of your arm bone repeatedly slips out of the socket. Shoulder instability can both cause and result from a dislocated shoulder. Sports or other activities involving repeated overhead motions can also lead to shoulder instability.

Once the connective tissues in your shoulder are damaged, it makes it easier for the ball of the shoulder joint to slip out of the socket. The inability of shoulder muscles to keep the arm bone in place is what causes chronic shoulder instability and its resulting shoulder pain.

We can help you manage shoulder instability and pain with a range of treatment options, including medication, physical therapy and surgery.

The Aurora Difference

Seamless Care for Shoulder Instability

We treat thousands of people every year for shoulder problems, which makes us experts at diagnosing and treating conditions like shoulder instability. If you choose us for shoulder treatment, we also offer:

  • Expert teams: We have more than 70 orthopedic surgeons, many of whom specialize in shoulder injuries, work-related injuries and sports medicine. At Aurora, you’ll get personalized care from specialists who are experts in treating your specific injury – so you can get back to the activities you love. Meet our sports health team.
  • Comprehensive treatment options: We have everything you need in one health system, including physical therapy and minimally invasive shoulder surgery.
  • Care coordination: Our goal is to provide a seamless experience for you. Here, you’ll have orthopedists, physical therapists and primary care doctors working together on your treatment, helping to speed your recovery. And our integrated medical record system means you won’t have to track down images and test results for different appointments.

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Symptoms & Causes

Signs of Shoulder Instability

The most common signs of shoulder instability are:

  • Repeat instances of dislocated shoulder
  • Shoulder pain due to injury
  • A loose or hanging feeling in the shoulder joint
  • The sensation of your arm bone slipping out of joint

Causes of Shoulder Instability

Shoulder instability can have several causes, including:

  • Injury: For many patients, an injury that causes a dislocated shoulder can lead to chronic shoulder instability. Work-related or sports injuries are both leading causes of dislocated shoulder and shoulder instability.
  • Repetitive use: Repeated overhead motion can cause loosening of the connective tissues in the shoulder. Sports that require this type of motion, including volleyball, swimming and tennis, are common causes of shoulder instability. Job activities that involve mechanical work or repetitive lifting can also cause shoulder problems.
  • Anatomy: Some people naturally have loose ligaments in their shoulders, causing instability unrelated to injury or repetitive strain.

Diagnosis & Treatment 

Shoulder Instability Tests & Imaging

The first step in diagnosing shoulder instability is having a doctor examine your shoulder for looseness. Additional tests your doctor may require include:

  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): This type of scan uses radio waves and magnets to create detailed images of your bones and connective tissues in your shoulder.
  • X-rays: An X-ray is an imaging procedure that provides pictures of your bones and internal structures. This test can help doctors see whether a shoulder injury is causing your shoulder pain.

Learn more about orthopedic diagnosis.

Treating Shoulder Instability

Our orthopedic specialists use the least invasive methods possible, typically starting with nonsurgical treatment before considering surgery.

Shoulder instability treatments may include:

  • Restricting activity: Avoiding specific activities that require overhead motion can help reduce your symptoms.
  • Medication: Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications, such as ibuprofen (Advil®) and naproxen (Aleve®), can help with shoulder pain and swelling.
  • Physical therapy: Exercises to improve strength and control of shoulder muscles may help resolve shoulder instability.
  • Shoulder surgery: If less invasive treatments don’t work, you may need surgery to fix stretched or torn ligaments. Whenever possible, our surgeons use minimally invasive arthroscopic surgery to repair shoulder injuries. This type of surgery requires just a few, small incisions, allowing you to recover faster with less scarring. Learn more about shoulder surgery.

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