Shoulder Instability Causes and Treatments

The shoulder is one of the most mobile joints in the human body, and because of its wide range of motion, it is susceptible to instability conditions and injuries.

What is Shoulder Instability?

Shoulder instability occurs when tissues in the shoulder are unable to keep the arm centered in the shoulder socket. The head of the humerus bone, or upper arm bone, should normally rest in a shallow socket in your shoulder blade.

“Our shoulders rely on tendons, muscles and ligaments to keep them stable,” says Dr. Anthony S. Wei, a Rebound orthopedic surgeon who treats disorders affecting the shoulder and elbow. “These important tissues can become loose or torn, which can lead to dislocation and shoulder instability.”

What Causes Shoulder Instability?

Your shoulder can do many things; it is an integral part of arm movement, allowing you to lift your arm, reach, rotate, etc. When these movements are abrupt, strenuous or excessive, your shoulder can become instable. Injuries, particularly dislocation, and overuse are common culprits for shoulder instability.

“We see many cases of shoulder instability with athletes or active patients, especially in those who have either dislocated their shoulder at one point or engage in sports that involve heavy use of the shoulder, like swimming, baseball, tennis and volleyball,” says Dr. Wei.

While the majority of cases of shoulder instability result from dislocation or strenuous activities, a very small number of patients may experience shoulder instability due to naturally loose ligaments. In these instances, your shoulder may continually dislocate in multiple directions or feel loose/unstable.

What are Some Common Symptoms of Shoulder Instability?

Some of the most common symptoms of shoulder instability include:

  • A loose sensation, as though upper arm bone is sliding out of the socket
  • Shoulder pain
  • Recurrent shoulder dislocations and shoulder fatigue

What are the Treatment Options for Shoulder Instability?

Rebound offers surgical and non-surgical treatment methods for shoulder instability. Depending on your symptoms and case, one of our shoulder specialists may recommend a combination of physical therapy, rest and anti-inflammatory medication. Our shoulder specialists work closely with our physical therapy team to create treatment plans structured to patients’ needs. This typically involves exercises to strengthen and condition shoulder muscles.

“With non-surgical treatment, our goal is to focus on targeted areas to create stability and flexibility while strengthening the shoulder,” says Dr. Wei.

When initial non-surgical treatments are not able to resolve the issue or ligaments have been stretched or damaged, our surgeons may recommend shoulder arthroscopy or an open surgical procedure. Surgery is usually necessary for patients who experience repeated dislocations.

After surgery, patients will begin a recovery and rehabilitation process based on your procedure (at-home exercise program, physical therapy, etc.).

If you’re experiencing the symptoms associated with shoulder instability or have recently dislocated or injured your shoulder, do not hesitate to make an appointment with one of our shoulder specialists. You may conveniently book an appointment online or call 1-800-REBOUND.


Rebound Resources:

Shoulder Surgery

Physical Therapy

Other Resources:

American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons – Chronic Shoulder Instability

AAOS – Shoulder Surgery

AAOS – Shoulder Arthroscopy

AAOS – Shoulder Surgery

AAOS – Shoulder Dislocation