Shoulder Dislocations VS Shoulder Subluxations

The shoulder joint is extremely mobile, a characteristic that allows us to reach, touch and manipulate objects in every direction around us. However it is this extreme mobility that also makes the shoulder more prone to dislocations. So what is the difference between a shoulder dislocation and a shoulder subluxation? A shoulder dislocation is when the ball and socket of the joint have fully separated where as a shoulder subluxation is when the ball and socket did not fully separate.


These 2 injuries have some similar symptoms – the two most obvious being pain and inability to move the arm. A shoulder dislocation may look visibly deformed, however. The shoulder may square off and look like it is at an odd angle. Oftentimes, there may be an associated fracture with the dislocation. With a shoulder subluxation, all you may notice is a mere bump at the top of the shoulder.

Management for a non-complex dislocated shoulder will usually involve immobilisation via shoulder sling. Following that both dislocations and subluxations will involve 4 phases:

1) Pain relief, swelling management & injury protection

2) Maintaining & restoring muscle control & strength

3) Restoring normal ROM & posture

4) Restoring full function. With that said, due to recurrence rate as high as 72% (12–22 yo) and 56% (23–29 yo), the most important goal is to prevent a recurrent dislocation. So stay tune for our favourite shoulder dislocation rehab exercises! References: Hovelius L, Olofsson A, Sandström B, et al. Nonoperative treatment of primary anterior shoulder dislocation in patients forty years of age and younger. a prospective twenty-five-year follow-up. J Bone Joint Surg Am. 2008 May; 90(5):945-52.

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