Although “broken arm” may spring to mind when you think of childhood injuries, dislocated shoulders can and do happen. The shoulder is the second most common joint to dislocate—second only to fingers—and unfortunately it’s not an uncommon injury among young athletes.
Those who play contact sports like football or wrestling are most likely to experience this injury, but it can happen to any child. It’s an unpleasant injury at any age but especially problematic for children. A child with a dislocated shoulder is likely to sustain another dislocation at a later date. The younger the child, the more likely this is to happen.
A dislocation happens when the head of the humerus—the upper arm bone—slips out of its socket. The bone can slide completely out of the socket (a complete dislocation), or only partially (a partial dislocation). When the bone dislocates, it stretches or tears the ligaments supporting the joint and its surrounding muscles.
What signs indicate a dislocated shoulder in a child?
A child with a dislocated shoulder will undoubtedly be experiencing pain. If your child has fallen on his or her shoulder or has suffered a direct blow to it, check for the following symptoms.
A child with a dislocated shoulder may exhibit:
- Swelling of the shoulder
- Bruising in the affected area
- Deformity in the area
- Difficulty moving the shoulder or arm
- Numbness in the arm or neck
- Muscle spasms in the shoulder
If the child is experiencing any of these symptoms, you should seek medical attention as soon as possible.
What should you do after your child dislocates a shoulder?
In a child with a dislocated shoulder, moving the arm can cause additional damage to the soft tissue surrounding the shoulder joint. It’s important to move the shoulder and arm as little as possible. Instead, try to stabilize the arm in whatever position it’s already in.
Making a sling may be helpful. Applying ice to the area may help with pain and reduce the swelling. You should never, however, attempt to pop the shoulder back into place yourself. Not only will it cause more pain for your child, but it can damage the shoulder even further. Instead, once the arm is stabilized, go to the emergency room as quickly as possible.
What happens at the hospital?
Once you reach the hospital, a doctor will examine your child. X-rays will likely be taken to ensure that no bones are broken. Then, the doctor will return the bone to its correct position—a quick, simple procedure called a reduction. This should immediately reduce the pain. Once the joint is returned to normal, the arm will be immobilized so that it can heal properly, typically by placing it in a sling. You will probably be advised to give the child anti-inflammatory medication, apply ice to reduce swelling and inflammation, and encourage the child to rest.
What steps should I take after leaving the hospital?
A follow-up with an orthopedic specialist is common once the dislocation has been corrected and your child is home from the hospital. A specialist will decide how long the shoulder should remain immobilized, and, if the injury was severe, whether surgery is necessary.
What does recovery entail?
Although the amount of time the shoulder must be immobilized depends on the severity of the injury and the child’s age, generally the younger the child, the longer the immobilization. Physical therapy will probably be recommended once healing is complete. Physical therapy will strengthen the muscles supporting the joint and decrease the likelihood of further dislocations. A return to normal activities will only be allowed once the shoulder has regained normal strength and range of motion.
Get Treatment for a Child with a Dislocated Shoulder in NYC
Having a child with a dislocated shoulder can be a traumatic experience for both the child and parent. If your child has suffered a dislocated shoulder and needs to be seen by an orthopedic shoulder specialist, contact our office to schedule your consultation with Francis Mendoza, M.D. today.