What is shoulder instability?
Shoulder instability is very common. Shoulders have a broad range of normal joint flexibility. Most of us have known someone who is “loose jointed”. Those patients have a natural instability in many of their joints. Many gymnasts and cheerleaders have naturally unstable joints.
A shoulder can also become unstable as a result of an injury. A forceful injury that overloads the ligaments in the shoulder may cause it to become unstable. Many unstable shoulders do not hurt at all.
When to See a Specialist
An unstable shoulder warrants an evaluation by a shoulder specialist if the shoulder is unacceptably painful or its function is unacceptable. The evaluation of an unstable shoulder will include a history, a careful physical examination, and will sometimes involve imaging studies such as plain x-rays or MRI scanning.
Shoulder instability that is causing pain or dysfunction and is not the result of an injury can usually be successfully treated with nonoperative treatments, such as:
Physical therapy is very effective in lessening the symptoms of a painful unstable shoulder. Physical therapy recommendations generally center around an effort to strengthen and coordinate the muscles of the shoulder that properly align the shoulder during vigorous activities.
In some cases, medication taken by mouth or by injection into the shoulder joint may be appropriate.
Shoulder surgery is sometimes suggested for an unstable painful shoulder. If surgery is done on a naturally loose shoulder, it often affords temporary relief of symptoms. It rarely affords long-term relief. An unstable shoulder that is made more stable by surgery will usually become unstable again.
If the shoulder has become unstable because of any injury, the treatment is often different than that provided for a naturally unstable shoulder. MRI scanning is commonly utilized in the evaluation of instability that is the result of injury. MRI scanning has the ability to identify an injury to the labrum and the ligaments of the shoulder. Certain injuries to those structures will do better on a long-term basis if the patient has surgery.
Once your specialist has diagnosed the exact nature of your injury, explore the common disorders pages to find treatment FAQs.