Shoulder Dislocation/Instability Specialist

Frequent shoulder dislocations could be a sign that you have shoulder instability. This article will discuss what shoulder instability is and its causes. We will also discuss how it can be identified, as well as the most effective treatment options.

If you would like more information about shoulder injuries, feel free to contact Brent J. Morris, MD, in Lexington, Kentucky. Dr. Morris is an expert orthopedic shoulder surgeon who is helping many people return to the activities and sports they love.

Dr. Brent J. Morris, MD, smiling.

Orthopedic Shoulder & Elbow Surgeon located in Lexington, KY

What is Shoulder Instability?

Shoulder instability often occurs with a dislocated shoulder. This is when a sudden forceful injury, such as a fall or accident, causes the head of the upper arm bone to come out of the shoulder socket.

If you have previously dislocated your shoulder, it is likely to occur again. This is because the ligaments, tendons, and muscles around the shoulder become loose or torn. If frequent dislocations occur, it is referred to as chronic shoulder instability.

The shoulder is particularly vulnerable to instability because of the large range of motion in which movement is possible.

What Causes Shoulder Instability?

A common cause for shoulder instability is dislocation of the glenohumeral joint. This is the joint between the upper arm bone and the glenoid of the shoulder blade. Instability can be the result of a partial or complete dislocation.

A partial dislocation is when the humeral head is partially out of the socket. A complete dislocation is when the humeral head comes completely out of the socket.

Shoulder dislocations can occur with severe injury or trauma. The shoulder socket and the ligaments can get injured during a dislocation, as well as the labrum. The labrum is the cartilage rim that sits in the socket to make it deeper. These injuries can make it more likely for you to experience further dislocations.

Other possibilities of shoulder instability are caused by loose shoulder ligaments. These ligaments could be loose because of your normal anatomy or because of repetitive movements in your sport or work.

The Symptoms of Shoulder Instability and Dislocations

You are likely to have shoulder instability if you experience the following symptoms:

  • Recurring shoulder dislocations
  • Your shoulder frequently gives out
  • Your shoulder is constantly feeling loose, slipping in and out of the joint, or just hanging there
  • Pain caused by a shoulder injury

Dislocated shoulder symptoms may include the following:

  • Deformity in the shoulder
  • Intense shoulder pain
  • Inability to move the joint
  • Swelling or bruising
  • Numbness, weakness, or tingling around the shoulder
  • Shoulder muscle spasms

Diagnosing Shoulder Instability

When diagnosing shoulder instability, Dr. Morris will start by talking with you about your symptoms and medical history. Then, he’ll do a physical exam, including specific tests to check for instability.

Next, your doctor might order some imaging tests to get a better look at the structures of your shoulder. X-rays can help identify bone injuries in your shoulder joint. An MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) scan can show detailed images of soft tissues, helping your doctor spot any injuries to the ligaments and tendons around your shoulder joint. Additionally, a CT scan can sometimes be used to look more closely at the bony structures.

How is Shoulder Instability Treated?

Chronic shoulder instability is often first treated without surgery. If you continue with pain, surgery might be needed.

Non-Surgical Treatment

Non-surgical treatments for shoulder instability may include the following:

  • Lifestyle changes and avoiding activities that make your symptoms worse.
  • Using over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs like aspirin, ibuprofen, or naproxen to reduce pain and swelling.
  • Physical therapy to strengthen your shoulder muscles and improve control. Your therapist might also give you exercises to do at home.

Surgical Treatment

If you continue with pain or symptoms of instability after trying non-surgical treatments, you may require surgery. Dr. Morris can repair torn or stretched ligaments in order to stabilize the shoulder joint. There are two methods of surgery used to treat instability:

  • Arthroscopy: This is a minimally invasive procedure. A tiny camera and special tools are used to repair soft tissues in the shoulder. It’s usually done as a same-day outpatient procedure.
  • Open Surgery: This is required when a larger incision is needed to perform the repair.


After surgery, you may need to temporarily immobilize your shoulder. Once the sling is removed, you’ll start exercises to rehabilitate the ligaments and improve shoulder motion. Your physical therapist will gradually increase the intensity of your rehabilitation program with exercises to strengthen your shoulder.

It’s important to continue with physical therapy in order to get back to your normal activities. It might take some time, but commitment to therapy is key for a successful recovery.

Schedule Your Appointment Today

If you’re experiencing shoulder instability or frequent dislocations, it’s important to seek expert medical advice. Contact the office of Dr. Brent Morris, an orthopedic shoulder surgeon in Lexington, Kentucky. Dr. Morris specializes in helping patients return to their favorite activities and sports, providing personalized care and effective treatment options.

Don’t let shoulder issues hold you back any longer. Take the first step towards recovery and book your appointment with Dr. Brent J. Morris today

Medically reviewed by Brent J. Morris, MD