Dislocated shoulder

First Aid for Dislocations

A dislocation is a separation of the end of a bone and the joint it meets. Bones that touch in the joints sometimes separate when they are overstressed.

Injuries related to dislocations include damage to the membrane lining the joint as well as tears to nearby muscles and ligaments.

Causes of dislocations include:

  • Injuries from contact sports
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Inborn joint defects
  • Joints weakened by previous injury
  • Suddenly jerking a toddler’s hand or arm. (Force applied in the wrong direction can snap the
    ball of the upper arm bone out of the shoulder socket.)

The shoulders are especially prone to dislocation injuries. Fingers, hips, ankles, elbows, jaws and even the spine can be dislocated as well. A dislocated vertebrae in the spine often damages the spinal cord and can paralyze body parts lower than the injury site.

Signs and Symptoms

A dislocated joint is:

  • Misshapen
  • Very painful
  • Swollen
  • Discolored

Sometimes it is hard to tell a dislocation from a broken bone. It is best to seek medical attention
if you suspect a dislocation. It is unwise to try to put a dislocated bone back into its socket.

When treated professionally, you can expect the dislocated joint to function within 24 to 48
hours. Activity may need to be limited for the next four to six weeks, though, to give the injury
enough time to heal.


  • Protect a previously injured joint by wrapping it with an elastic bandage or tape.
  • Wear protective pads (shoulder, wrist, knee, etc.) when taking part in contact sports or in other activities in which you may fall or otherwise get injured.

Self-Care After Medical Care

Dislocations, like other joint injuries, are often best treated by R.I.C.E. (rest, ice, compression and elevation) during the first 24 to 48 hours after the injury.

  • Rest. Rest the injured joint as much as possible.
  • Ice. Place crushed ice in a plastic bag, wrap it in a towel and apply to injured area for 20 to 30 minutes. Repeat each hour until the swelling eases. Ice helps to reduce the bleeding, swelling and
    pain. Compression. Apply a snug, wet elastic bandage to the injured joint. Numbness, tingling or increased pain means the bandage is too tight. Elevation. Raise the injured ankle or knee above the level of the person’s heart. Place it on a pillow, folded blanket or stack of newspapers.

Give the person acetaminophen, ibuprofen or naproxen sodium for pain according to the recommended dosage on the label. Do not give aspirin if there is any bleeding because aspirin is a mild blood thinner that may worsen the bleeding. [Note: Do not give aspirin or any medication with salicylates to anyone 19 years of age or younger unless a doctor tells you to.]

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Written by American Institute for Preventive Medicine

Explore Wellness in 2021