What is shoulder instability?
The shoulder is the most movable joint in our body. It helps us to lift our arm, rotate our arm, and reach up over our head. People who participate in repetitive overhead motion sports, such as swimming and throwing, often stretch the muscles and ligaments of their shoulders to the end of their limits. Over time, these tissues lose their ability to return to their normal shapes and thus to maintain shoulder stability. When the shoulder begins to feel loose and slips out of place repeatedly, it is called chronic shoulder instability.
What causes shoulder instability?
Shoulder instability can be caused by shoulder dislocations (which can occur in contact sports or accidents), repetitive strain (loosening of the ligaments from activities such as swimming, tennis, and volleyball), or something called multidirectional instability, which can occur in people who have naturally loose ligaments throughout their body and may be “double jointed.”
What are the symptoms of shoulder instability?
Common symptoms of chronic shoulder instability include:
- Pain caused by shoulder injury
- Repeated shoulder dislocations
- Repeated instances of the shoulder giving out
- A persistent sensation of the shoulder feeling loose, slipping in and out of the joint, or just “hanging there”
How is shoulder instability diagnosed?
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms, review your medical history, and perform a physical exam. Your shoulder’s range of motion will be tested to determine when you experience pain and when you feel your shoulder about to “slip out.” X-rays and MRI scans may also be done to confirm that your discomfort is related to shoulder instability versus another condition.
How is shoulder instability treated?
Treatment depends largely on the instability of your shoulder and how it affects day-to-day activities. Physical therapy may be sufficient to help you gain strength in the group of muscles and tendons that acts to stabilize the shoulder. In more severe cases, surgical repair may provide the most effective outcome.