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Shoulder Separation vs. Dislocation

Shoulder injuries are one of the most common types of injuries experienced by children and adults alike. The reason injuries to the shoulder are so common is likely due to the way that shoulder injuries typically happen. Any accident involving a fall or hyperextension of the shoulder can lead to severe pain and injury, and once you experience a shoulder injury, you increase your risk of experiencing a problem again.

This is especially the case with shoulder separations and dislocations. These injuries are most likely to develop as a result of:

  • Falling onto a hard surface.
  • Being hit directly in the shoulder.
  • Attempting to break a fall with your arm.

While the injuries happen in similar ways, shoulder separation and dislocation are actually very different types of injuries. Before making any assumptions about the type of injury that you have, or the best type of treatment, it is important that you meet with a shoulder orthopedic expert for advice.

Shoulder Dislocation

dislocated shoulderA shoulder dislocation develops when the arm bone (the humerus) physically pops out of the shoulder socket, which is surrounded by the clavicle and rotator cuff. This is a physical separation and movement of the bone to where it is not meant to be. A combination of skin, ligaments and tissue prevents the arm bone from falling too far away from the shoulder socket, but in the case of a dislocation, the end of the arm bone is physically removed from the socket where it is supposed to stay.

Shoulder Separation

In a shoulder separation, the arm bone does not physically dislocate from the shoulder socket. Instead, the arm bone hyperextends, or stretches, outside of the socket, without losing its placing entirely. While a shoulder separation makes it sound like it is directly affecting the shoulder, like a dislocation, this actually refers to an injury of the ligaments surrounding the shoulder. When the ligament is torn in a shoulder separation, the collarbone is no longer secured to the clavicle. This may cause the collarbone to move freely in place in the shoulder, and this will likely cause severe pangs of pain, especially as it applies pressure up against the skin.

One of the biggest differences between a shoulder separation and dislocation is the type of treatment necessary to fully correct the injury. In the case of a separation, recovery is often possible through a strict course of physical therapy. Contrarily, in the case of a dislocation, surgical intervention is often needed to secure the arm bone in place, and then physical therapy is needed to return the shoulder to its former level of function and strength.

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

Frank Collier, MD

Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation
Pain Management Specialist

Dr. Frank Collier is a board-certified Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation physician and Pain Management Specialist who specializes in the treatment of injuries and illnesses that affect how people move and function while living with pain.

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