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The shoulder joint is a ball and socket joint that connects the bone of the upper arm (humerus) with the shoulder blade (scapula).  The shallow 
socket in the scapula is the glenoid cavity.  The capsule is a broad ligament that surrounds and stabilizes the joint. The glenoid labrum is a rim of cartilage attached to the glenoid rim. If the arm is pulled out of its socket, the capsule and labrum tear, usually from the rim of the glenoid cavity.  
A dislocation occurs when the humerus comes completely out of the socket and stays out.  A subluxation occurs when the humerus comes partly out of the socket and then slips back in.

When the capsule tears from the glenoid rim, the shoulder can become unstable and dislocate or subluxate repeatedly. The most common direction for the humeral head to dislocate is toward the front of the body (anteriorly); this typically occurs if the arm goes too far behind the body when the arm is in an overhead position (such as when throwing a ball). The humeral head can also dislocate toward the back of the body (posteriorly) when force is directed toward the back of the shoulder; this can occur when falling forward on an outstretched arm or blocking with the arm straight ahead in football.


The direction of a shoulder dislocation or subluxation can usually be made by physical examination. It is possible for the shoulder to be unstable in more than one direction. “Multidirectional instability” is more common in loose-jointed (double jointed) individuals.

If the diagnosis of instability or its direction is in doubt, additional tests that can be helpful are:


  • magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computed tomography (CT)

  • MRI or CT scan can be performed after dye is injected into the shoulder joint(arthro MRI or arthro CT)

  • examination under anesthesia followed by arthroscopic surgery


Some patients who dislocate their shoulder do well after the injury and do not have recurrent instability. They tend to be older in age and not active in sports. Young people, especially athletes, are prone to have recurrent dislocations and subluxations and usually need surgery to correct the shoulder problem.
The unstable shoulder joint can be repaired by reattaching the torn labrum and capsule to the glenoid rim.  This is called a Bankart repair.  The repair is generally done through a minimally invasive approach called arthroscopic surgery.  
In some instances, an open procedure is performed in which the muscles are separated to expose the shoulder capsule.  
If the capsule is found to have torn away from the bone, three holes are made in the glenoid rim.  Stitches are 
passed through each hole and through the capsule and tied, securing the ligaments and capsule to the glenoid rim.  The capsule heals back to the bony rim and prevents the shoulder from re-dislocating. 
It takes several months for the capsule to heal back to the bone. During this time, extremes of shoulder motion should be avoided so that the stitches are not torn.


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