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Some first aid advice when you dislocate your shoulder

Michael D. Lanigan, MD, FACEP Asst. Professor of Emergency Medicine and Attending Physician Dept. of Emergency Medicine, SUNY Downstate Medical Center, Brooklyn, NY
Some first aid advice when you dislocate your shoulder

Many shoulder injuries are not serious and will improve with rest, ice, and over the counter pain medications. However, the shoulder is a ball and socket joint, and is prone to serious injury such as dislocation (shoulder head out of joint) with blunt force from a direct blow such as in contact sports, motor vehicle accidents, seizures, or fractures (breaking of the bones) from a direct blow or a fall. Keep in mind this advice if you have just injured your shoulder.


Do

Do go to the ER if pain is severe

If the pain is severe or there is a deformity that is obvious, go to the Emergency Room (ER). The shoulder will likely need an xray and may need to be relocated into the joint, which should only be done by medical personnel such as a physician.

Do avoid unnecessary movement of the arm

Moving your arm too much, especially if you experience severe pain while doing so, will make the pain worse and may also worsen the injury if the shoulder is dislocated or fractured. There are nerves and blood vessels around the shoulder joint that can be damaged if you move the arm too much. If possible, keep your arm next to your body and hold the forearm with your other hand.

Do apply ice

Apply ice for 15-20 minutes every couple hours with a cloth in between the ice and skin. This will help decrease swelling and pain. Be careful not to ice for too long or without something between ice bag and skin; you may damage your skin by doing so which can lead to even more pain and even frostbite.

Do support your lower arm

You should support your lower arm with your uninjured hand or by using a sling. This will help to decrease the pain by keeping the arm still. If used, a sling should support the lower arm and be secured around the neck.

Do allow EMS treatment

If you were in a motor vehicle accident or someone called for an ambulance, you should let the EMT treat you as they see fit. These experts may identify other injuries that need attention, and can get you to the hospital quickly if needed.


Don't

Do not ignore an obvious serious injury

Waiting too long and delaying going to the ER and getting help can increase risk of permanent injury to the nerves or shoulder joint, and can make any reduction (relocating the top of the upper arm back into the shoulder joint) needed more difficult.

Do not drive with a serious shoulder injury

If you drive with a serious shoulder injury, you may compromise your driving, which can potentially lead to an accident. Get someone else to drive you or if necessary call an ambulance. There is no sense in risking the possibility of getting more hurt than you already are.

Do not apply heat in the first few days after an injury

Applying heat can increase blood flow to the injured region and will thus increase swelling. Applying ice is the best thing to do so that you can decrease the swelling and pain.

Do not take excessive OTC pain medication

If you take too many over the counter pain medications, you can injure your internal organs or cause excessive sedation. When the pain is severe, it may mean you need a stronger prescription painkillers. But even if your doctor tells you to buy OTC pain medication, the amount you take and what you take should be managed by a physician so it will not cause you internal bodily harm.


Summary
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Serious shoulder injuries need medical attention. If you think you’ve dislocated or fractured your shoulder, go to the ER right away. Don’t move the arm excessively. You can ice for short periods of time, but pain control should generally be managed by a physician.


More expert advice about Injuries

Photo Credits: Not the best day #2 by Flickr: ndanger; Check Man, Cross Man and Jump Man © ioannis kounadeas - Fotolia.com

Michael D. Lanigan, MD, FACEPAsst. Professor of Emergency Medicine and Attending Physician

Medical Director, Urgent Care Center, SUNY Downstate at Bay Ridge Former Medical Director of Emergency Services, Orange Regional Medical Center, Middletown, NY Former Associate Medical Director, Dept. of Emergency Medicine, St. Luke’s-Roosevel...

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