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Physical Therapy for Shoulder Dislocation – Information, Exercises, and More

The shoulder is the most mobile joint in the body, and also the most likely to dislocate.

Maybe you’re a contact sports athlete, or you’ve had a bad fall, and the doctor had to reset your dislocated shoulder but now you’re wondering—“will this happen again?”

If you’ve experienced a shoulder dislocation, physical therapy can get you on the path to rehabilitation and help to prevent reinjury.

We’re going to tell you everything you need to know about shoulder dislocation, how it’s treated, and how to prevent it from happening again.

What is Shoulder Dislocation?

Depending on how loose the shoulder is, dislocation can occur during aggressive contact sports, or even after having an awkward fall.

When forced out of its normal range of motion, the humerus (upper arm bone), which fits into the scapula (shoulder blade) like a ball and socket, can pop out of place.

But it’s not always as simple as just “popping it back in.” Shoulder dislocation can cause damage to the surrounding parts of the shoulder, such as:

  • Bones
  • Ligaments
  • Muscles
  • Tendons
  • Cartilage 

If you suspect a shoulder dislocation, you should seek immediate help from a physician.

What Causes Shoulder Dislocation?

Dislocation is one of the most common traumas that affect the shoulder, and it can happen to anyone.

Contact Sports

Athletes engaged in contact sports—such as hockey or football—are at a higher risk of dislocation due to a traumatic impact on the body.

Gymnasts, cheerleaders, and any athlete who may be involved in a bad fall are also considered high risk for dislocation.


A dislocation can occur as a result of a traffic accident. The impact can cause the humerus to be pushed forward and out of the socket.

Work-related accidents can also result in a shoulder dislocation, especially for people who have labor-intensive, or physically dangerous jobs.

Falling Down

A dislocation can happen to anyone—children, athletes, adults—but most commonly in older people who are at risk of falling down.

Falling on an outstretched arm, or directly on the shoulder can cause a shoulder dislocation.

Shoulder Dislocation Symptoms

Upon impact, you will likely feel the arm dislocating from the shoulder, however this is not always the case. It’s easy to ignore pain, and chalk it up to bruising and soreness after a grueling game of rugby, or an unfortunate fall off a ladder. 

But, it’s important that anytime you have an injury resulting in lasting pain, you should see a doctor immediately. 

You may have a dislocated shoulder if you have:

  • Swelling or bruising on the upper arm
  • Severe pain in the shoulder
  • Difficulty moving your arm
  • Muscle spasms in the upper arm or shoulder
  • An arm that looks out of place or crooked
  • Numbness or tingling in your neck, arm, hand, or fingers

Shoulder dislocation can cause serious nerve or blood vessel damage

If your arm and hand feel cold or look discolored you should seek immediate treatment.

Shoulder Dislocation Treatment

If you suspect a shoulder dislocation, physical therapy isn’t your first stop. You should see a physician or visit the emergency room as soon as you suspect dislocation.

Closed Reduction

You may be given medication to relax the area and reduce the pain before your physician will guide your arm back into your shoulder socket. As soon as the joint is back in place the severe pain should stop.

Your arm will be placed in a sling for a few days or up to a few weeks.


After the pain and swelling subside you should complete supervised and guided exercises with a physical therapist to strengthen the muscles and improve your range of mobility.

Surgical Stabilization

In many cases, surgery can be avoided. A complete physical therapy program can help stabilize the shoulder and prevent a recurrence of the injury.

However, and more commonly in young patients, surgical stabilization may be required.

Shoulder Dislocation Physical Therapy – Will PT Help?

Physical therapy is an essential part of your recovery from a shoulder dislocation. 

Without physical therapy, the shoulder will remain unstable and at a higher risk for reinjury.

Your therapist will follow a shoulder dislocation physical therapy protocol depending on the extent of your injury. When adhered to, studies show that patients see more than 90% improvement after just six weeks.

In addition to the manual physical therapy and supervised exercises, your therapist will teach you movements and exercises to do at home to help speed your recovery.

Best Physical Therapy Exercises for Shoulder Dislocation

Studies show that your chances of shoulder dislocation recurrence are significantly lower when the focus of rehabilitation is physical therapy and targeted exercise.

Your physical therapist will devise an individualized recovery plan, based on the extent of your injury, and your level of activity.

Range of Mobility Exercises

Your shoulder movement may be limited due to swelling and pain. Your therapist will show you how to safely and effectively restore movement to the area through a series of exercises. Manual therapy is sometimes applied to reduce pain.

Strengthening Exercises

Your therapist will develop a training plan to help strengthen the shoulder muscles and improve stability. Strengthening exercises are especially important to decrease the chances of reinjury.

Sport Specific/Muscle Retraining Exercises

If you plan to return to your sport (or job), your therapist can tailor a rehabilitation plan that is specific to the demands placed on your body. Your body will need to relearn how to withstand and respond to a sudden impact or blow.

How In Motion O.C. Can Help With Shoulder Dislocation

At In Motion O.C. our expert physical therapists will guide you through your entire rehabilitation in our state-of-the-art facility. 

We have specialized therapists available for any type of injury, and we have helped hundreds of people recover from a shoulder dislocation.

Voted #1 Physical Therapist in the entire country on Yelp, our reputation for excellence speaks for itself. Check out these testimonials, and see what our clients have to say about us.

Don’t wait until it’s too late. 

Start your wellness journey with In Motion O.C. today.

*This information about physical therapy for shoulder dislocation was reviewed by Dr Natalie Thomas, PT, DPT. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us here.

In Motion O.C.