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Shoulder instability What are the causes and symptoms

Shoulder instability is a medical condition when the shoulder head or top repeatedly slips out of the socket. Shoulder instability is usually the result of a dislocated shoulder. Sports or other activities where there are repeated overhead motions lead to shoulder instability. Due to repeated shoulder dislocations or a single severe one, the connective tissues in the shoulder can get damaged. When the tissues holding the joint bones are weakened, naturally, the ball of the shoulder joint slips easily out of the socket. Since the shoulder muscles cannot keep the arm bone in place, it leads to shoulder instability, resulting in shoulder pain. In this blog, we will learn about “Shoulder instability – causes and symptoms”.

What does shoulder instability mean, and what are the causes?

The various types of shoulder instabilities are categorized below:

Shoulder Dislocation and Subluxation

Due to significant trauma to the shoulder joint, the humeral head will be forcefully subluxated or dislocated. If the humerus partially slides in and out of place, then it is called partial subluxation. But if the humerus comes out of the glenoid, then it is a full dislocation. The shoulder may fall back into place after time, or an experienced doctor will be able to put it back.

Labral Tear

If the labrum is torn or peeled off of the glenoid, then shoulder instability can occur. The common cause is repetitive motion, like throwing a baseball.


A simple work-related or sports injury can lead to chronic shoulder dislocation. However, if the patient does not modify the work pattern or does not let the initial dislocation heal properly, then the shoulder becomes unstable. If the same injury re-occurs again, the shoulder will dislocate again, and the instability increases. So, this becomes a cyclic pattern.

Repetitive use

If the shoulder is used in a repeated overhead motion, the connective tissues in the shoulder loosen up. Most sports, such as volleyball, swimming and tennis, are common causes of shoulder instability. Job activities that involve mechanical work or repetitive lifting can also cause shoulder problems.

Natural anatomical structure (genetic condition): 

If the anatomy of the shoulder is such that it naturally has loose ligaments in the shoulders, it may cause instability even without any major injury or repetitive strain.

Symptoms of shoulder instability

The symptoms in the case of shoulder instability are:-

  • The shoulder dislocates easily and repeatedly
  • Constant pain due to injury
  • The patient feels that the shoulder joint is loose and lacks the strength 
  • There will be a feeling that your arm bone is slipping out of joint

How to diagnose shoulder instability?

The doctor will first do a physical examination of the shoulder for looseness. The additional tests that the doctors might do are:

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): MRI uses radio waves and magnets to create clear images of the shoulder bones and connective tissues.

X-rays: A simple X-ray is sometimes sufficient to see the pictures of your bones and internal structures. The X-Ray will indicate if any shoulder injury is causing your shoulder pain.

Treatments for shoulder instability

Experienced shoulder surgeons like Dr.Chandra Shekhar B will first start with the least invasive methods possible, typically starting with nonsurgical treatment before considering surgery.

Shoulder instability treatments may include:

Limited activity: Observe yourself and figure out what movements are causing shoulder pain. Avoid those specific activities and also stay away from overhead motion, which can help reduce your symptoms.

Medication: Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications and counter medications can help with shoulder pain and swelling.

Physical therapy: Exercises which can improve strength and control of shoulder muscles may help resolve shoulder instability are a must. We have a very good physical therapy team who will design your physical therapy regimen.

Shoulder surgery: If none of the above conservative non-invasive treatments work, you may need surgery to fix stretched or torn ligaments. Most shoulder injuries can be reduced by performing the minimally invasive arthroscopic surgery. The surgeon will make just a few small incisions. Laparoscopic surgery will allow you to recover faster with less scarring. 

We at Hyderabad Shoulder Clinic have treated shoulder instabilities in professional sportspersons. We not only fix the dislocated shoulder but are with you in the whole journey of trying to back your shoulder strength. We first try out non-invasive conservative treatments. We move to surgery only after careful consideration. In either of the treatment methodologies, the patient has to do physical therapy sincerely and do regular follow-ups. For more information, please contact us 

+91 9959588389, or visit our website

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