Your shoulders are some of the biggest joints in your body. If you’re experiencing shoulder pain or discomfort, it becomes practically impossible to do even the most basic of activities, such as taking care of personal hygiene and running errands. Even restful sleep is interrupted.
Such is the case with shoulder instability. But, what exactly does that term mean? How can you recognize it, and what type of treatment would make it heal as soon as possible?
What is shoulder instability?
The shoulders are ball-and-socket joints made of the humerus (the upper arm, with a “ball” at the top), the scapula (the “socket”), the Glenoid labrum (cartilage from the scapula to the humerus) and the clavicle (the collarbone). This is all held together by muscles, ligaments, and tendons.
Shoulder instability occurs when the ball portion of the joint does not remain in the socket. This leads to the joint becoming loose and moving partially out of the socket (this is called a subluxation) or become fully dislodged from the socket (dislocation).
What causes shoulder instability?
Usually, the cause for shoulder instability is experiencing trauma, such as a fall or a car accident. Once a shoulder is dislocated, it’s common for it to happen again, especially when the cartilage in the joint is torn.
The tendons and ligaments in the shoulder could also become loose due to repetitive activities that strain the shoulders, such as lifting heavy loads, using industrial machinery, working with your arms at shoulder level for long periods of time, or playing certain sports.
Shoulder Instability Symptoms
Symptoms of shoulder instability include:
- Diminished range of motion
- Repeated instances of your shoulder giving out
- Sensation of having a loose shoulder
- Repeated shoulder dislocations
Diagnosing Shoulder Instability
Diagnosing shoulder instability involves a physical exam, followed by x-rays or an MRI to rule out any other possible causes – for the pain and discomfort.
Treatment for Shoulder Instability
Treatment for shoulder instability includes anti-inflammatory medications and physical therapy to strengthen the muscles around the shoulder joint. Your doctor may also recommend lifestyle changes, such as avoiding, or modifying, activities that aggravate your shoulder.
If you also have a torn ligament, surgery may be necessary to repair it.
Risk Factors for Shoulder Instability
There are certain types of patients who are more likely to experience shoulder instability. These include:
- People who are double jointed
- People who have previously experienced a shoulder dislocation
A person is also more likely to get shoulder instability if they don’t have an ergonomic work setting. Risk factors in this situation include being on the phone for extended periods of time without a headset or having a desk that is too high.
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