Video: How to Fix a Dislocated Shoulder

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Video: How to Pop a Shoulder Back Into Place

by James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H.

You’re slipping down a hill and grab a tree limb to stop your fall. You wish you hadn’t because now your shoulder’s hurting like all get-out. You think you dislocated it.

You need medical help as soon as possible. The only way to rule out a break is to have X-rays. If there’s no way to get the help, here are some things I’d do to diagnose and treat the shoulder injury. (You can also view these tips in the video above.)

Tips for Diagnosing a Dislocated Shoulder

You may have a dislocated shoulder if:

  • It feels best to hold your forearm out with your good hand, across your abdomen or chest, elbow bent at a ninety-degree angle.
  • There’s a soft spot and possible indentation in your injured shoulder because the ball isn’t in the socket. (You can tell the difference if you compare it to the good shoulder.)

How a Shoulder Gets Dislocated

The top of the upper arm ends in the shape of a ball. The ball fits into a socket, or cup, in the shoulder bone. When you dislocate your shoulder:

  1. Trauma jerks the ball out of the socket.
  2. Shoulder muscles pull the ball back, but now it’s outside the socket.
  3. The ball is tight up against the socket and can’t get back in.

How to Fix a Dislocated Shoulder

To fix a dislocated shoulder, you must pull the arm away from the socket so the ball is pulled beyond the edge of the socket cup. To do this, you need traction from weights or someone pulling while your arm is in a proper position.

In my video I demonstrate the top three ways I would attempt to fix a dislocated shoulder. In each method, you have to pull on the arm slowly and steadily. (Jerking causes the muscles to react and contract. It could also break a bone.) The muscles do the rest, and eventually, the ball pops back into the socket.

  • BarleySinger

    I keep trying and it stays out

  • BarleySinger

    I live way out in the country, and I am disabled. I can’t just drive in and get this seen too easily, and if I went to the doctor every time something hurt they would start charging me rent.

    My wife and I are both disabled (multiple pain conditions) and we HAVE to live out where the air is breathable. The house we bought (all we could afford at the time) has the common things that you see in Australian homes (every nation has their q- a wood stove as the only heat. Winters (contrary to some peoples ideas) do get quite cold here. It is the wind chill that is the issue, as we get Antarctic winds that can suck the heat right out of you (or your entire house so every winter, as the only larger person in the house, I have to chop wood… painful or not… and every winter it takes a few months fot eh muscles I’ve torn up doing this to heal. Well we are seriously into spring now (a few days up in 85F) and it still hurts like… it hurts a lot; especially if I move my elbow up rotate my shoulder out so it is in line with my body and then reach up (like putting an item onto an upper shelf that is to your side … YOUCH). I am pretty sure it is a partial dislocation. I’m not into complaining as I grew up in ‘logggerville’ on the Pacific coast of the US northwest. We just didn’t go to doctors unless likely to die (stupid people) so I have lived with this things hurting for about 6 months now. My wife has a collagen disorder so I am used to fixing dislocated shoulders (partial or full) in her,… but none of the easy ones seem to work on this. It just won’t pop into place. Normally just grabbing something and dangling by my weight with the arm about 20%-30% past shoulder level will retract the ball out and let it slip back in (yes I have had partial dislocations before).

  • Sheik Zaim Muiz

    i fell from the roof and was holding with one limb and i felt like my arm was removed , i couldn’t feel my arm for some seconds and then the pain went off and became normal next thing i know i couldn’t throw a ball or do hook punches fast it removes again and then after some seconds turns normal.. now i cant train up to 100%, this morning it happened again so now i tried you’re video i heard a pop noise but i feel my bone knocking something and it hurts a bit even now while im typing, i keep rotating my arm, i feel like someones pulling it downwards arm my arm feels a bit heavy now but even the doctor said i had to get an MRI scan… thanks for the video ill give it a try :)

    • James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      Shiek, the video is for when you can’t get to a doctor. You’ve been (a good thing) and advised to get a MRI, so I’d go by that advice.

  • AlphaLady777

    How’s this for a birthday “present?” I picked up a tea pot with my left hand and dislocated my left shoulder. This is a continous problem! Prison guards at CCA originally dislocated my shoulder-blades when they were torturing me. I was thrown into prison for “speaking,” i.e., exercising my First Amendment rights. I am disabled and refused to take my ‘Medic Alert’ tag off (it is illegal to ask a disabled person to remove Medic Alert tags – see ADAAA (Americans With Disabilities Act of 2008.) So, the prison guards threw me out of my wheelchair, onto the hard, conctrete floor, handcuffed me, then yanked on the handcuffs until my shoulderblades dislocated. (TRUE STORY!) I had to fix this injury myself. Luckily, I was placed in a freezing, concrete holding cell where I was shaking so hard from hypothermia that my shoulder finally popped back into place. This is the hard way to fix a dislocated shoulder!! Trust me. Thanks for a video on the easy way………….

    • James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      You’re welcome

  • allise

    i think i dislocated my shoulder. the pain started around Monday, and i thought i slept on it wrong, and i finally brought it up to my dad and grandma yesterday because the pain just got worse and not better. my parent are wanting to wait until Thursday to bring me to the doctor because they cant miss another day of work until Christmas. I have competition in a week.. is there a way we can do this at home because i have to compete no matter what. ima strong person an have put up with my shoulder like this through 3 practices already, but its getting harder to lift my arm above my head.

    • James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      Maybe some heat, over-the-counter nsaids? Possiby the doctor is open on Saturday or there’s an urgent care?

  • Amber-23

    Is there anyway to pop it back in myself? I tried to do the whole wall pulling thing and it hurt so bad.. now it feels 100% worse. I dont have insurance and don’t have anyone here until later to help me with it. Please let me know if there is something i can do. its starting to hurt my neck on the right side..

    • James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      Amber, did you view the part where you lie face down with a weight in your hand? Anyway, you should call your doctor or go to an urgent care clinic today.

      • Amber-23

        I dont have any money or insurance, Im just going to have to fight through the pain.. This really sucks.

        • James Hubbard, MD, MPH

          Amber, you might call your local hospital and ask about the best alternatives for the cheapest care. If your shoulder is truly dislocated, sooner or later you going to have to have it fixed. And the sooner the better.

  • Mike

    I’ve had many dislocations, even after rotator cuff surgery. This morning was sleeping with arm behind my head and shoulder popped ( ruining a great dream).
    I couldn’t remember how I, or dr., had gotten it back in place previous times. Went to web…
    1st site recommended bending elbow to 90% then parallel to body and lift. Ouch!!! Didn’t work.
    Next website recommended grabbing knee while on floor and pulling back. Was good stretch but didn’t do the trick.
    Next I found your website. Dangled my arm off bed as you 1st recommend. Good stretch, no pain. I didn’t even feel it pop back in, just noticed pain gone, indentation gone and had decent range of motion.

    • James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      Great, Mike. Sounds like it might be time to talk to your doctor to see if surgery is an option.

  • Troy

    I had 7 shoulder dislocations before I had “open bankart” shoulder surgery to have it repaired 4 years ago. Shoulder dislocations are one of the worst injuries that I’ve ever experienced. The best thing you can do is get it put back in place (reduced) asap! The longer you wait, the tighter the muscles get etc. I dislocated mine doing things from roller blading, martial arts, and throwing a baseball. After the first separation / dislocation, you will be susceptible to more. I can attest to this fact. On my 3td dislocation, luckily I was in jiujitsu class and my instructor knew exactly what to do. Pulling on it was not the easiest way to reduce it as was done in the emergency room the previous times. The best method is to bend at the elbow 90 degrees and lift as high as possible. Have someone or yourself make a clinched fist and tightly put it up in your armpit. Then push down on the elbow causing the shoulder to pop back in socket. It sucks but works better than any method ever used on me in the ER. I highly recommend the surgery to repair it if you are a chronic sufferer of this injury. The surgery sucks but us 100% worth it and your repaired shoulder will be even better than your non repaired shoulder in 3 months or so. Good luck! [email protected].

    • Juice1234

      My shoulder has dislocated for ten years. Sometimes so bad it puts me into shock! I had an Er doctor show me this manuver and it works every time! I have to show my gf so if I get hurt or wake up with it out they know what to do. Have the other person grab the arm that’s out, make a fist and slowly bend that arm into a 90degree position. Than gently rotate the same arm into the stomache area and it will slide back in. Before this I used to wriggle around and try and do what ever. It would hurt soooo bad and sometimes is even have to call an ambulance. Show ur signifigant other this! Promise it works. Good luck!

      • James Hubbard, MD, MPH

        Thanks. Have you ever considered surgery to keep it from re-dislocating?

    • James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H.

      Thanks, Troy. Sounds like you’ve had a rough time of it.

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  • James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H.

    Oh, Erin?

    Ask them about any alternatives to surgery and what the odds are those alternatives might help.