Shoulder > Shoulder Subluxation > Treatments

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If you have been diagnosed with a subluxated shoulder, your physician may recommend that you give the muscles and tendons in your shoulder a chance to rest. You should avoid putting strain on your arms, raising them over your head, or lifting heavy objects. Physicians often prescribe a removable sling to immobilize the arm; the time period for using a sling can vary from three days to two weeks, depending on the severity of the condition. While wearing the sling, you should ice your shoulder for about 20 minutes at a time, three or four times a day, to decrease inflammation and pain. You can rest a bag of ice on your shoulder whether sitting or lying down; you may need to tape the ice pack if you plan on moving around while icing your shoulder. After 72 hours of intermittent ice treatment, heat may be effective in reducing pain. A heating pad, ointments, or moist heat may be used. Your physician also may prescribe over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication like aspirin or ibuprofen. On rare occasions, some patients are given injections of long-lasting anesthetics to ease pain. A corticosteroid injection can be effective in reducing pain stemming from shoulder blade bursitis.


To improve stability and maintain range of motion in your shoulder after shoulder subluxation, your physician or physical therapist may suggest stretching and strengthening exercises that focus on your rotator cuff. The tendons that make up your rotator cuff help to keep the shoulder stabilized. These exercises usually are performed after you have rested your shoulder for about two weeks. “Pendulum” exercises are typically recommended during the period between removal of the sling and the start of an exercise program. Physical therapy to restore range of motion and strength to your shoulder usually progresses through four phases. The time you spend in each phase depends on the severity of your injury and your body’s ability to heal.

   The first phase focuses on decreasing inflammation in the rotator cuff. Your therapist usually helps you move your arm and stretch your shoulder.

   When you feel comfortable moving your arm with your own strength, the second phase of rehabilitation focuses on stretching your arm and shoulder to achieve a full range of motion.

   The third phase of rehab focus on strengthening the rotator cuff muscles. You usually learn shoulder-strengthening exercises without weights and progressively add resistance as pain goes away.

   When the muscles in the injured rotator cuff are about as strong as the uninjured muscles, phase four of rehabilitation becomes more activity oriented. You usually perform sport specific exercises and coordination drills under the supervision of a therapist or coach.

Here are examples of shoulder stretching and strengthening exercises:

   Shoulder stretching exercises

   Shoulder strengthening exercises

Prevention [top]

The best way to prevent recurrent shoulder subluxation is to make the shoulder stretching and strengthening exercises you learned in rehabilitation part of your everyday routine. After you suffer an initial subluxation, your shoulder may be more vulnerable to instability. The natural integrity of the socket may not be strong enough to withstand the force of contact sports or repeated overhead motion. You may have to rely much more on the muscles in the rotator cuff (supraspinatus, infraspinatus, subscapularis, and the teres minor), lower neck, and upper back to hold your shoulder in place. Sports that involve repeated overhand motion, like baseball and tennis, inevitably put stress on your shoulder. To prevent injury, you need to practice proper technique when doing these activities. You also may need to alter your work environment to avoid repeated overhead activities. In general, your shoulder can become healthy and stable after subluxation, but you may need to be cautious of activities that could result in accidental collisions or falls. Your physician may recommend that you avoid contact sports or risky, high-speed activities. You should wear shoulder pads during contact sports. Your physician can recommend the best types of protective gear for your shoulders. If you play a sport that does not require overhand motions, your physician may prescribe an abduction harness, which is worn around the chest and affected arm. The harness helps to stabilize the shoulder by preventing you from raising your arm above 90 degrees. If you feel persistent pain in your shoulder during activities, you should cut back your activity level and return to your physician for a check-up.

Physical Therapy
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