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Sleeping with a Twist: Exploring Shoulder Dislocation and How to Prevent It

Shoulder dislocation is a condition that occurs when the upper arm bone (humerus) pops out of the shoulder blade (scapula). This can be a very painful condition that requires prompt medical attention. While shoulder dislocation is typically associated with sports injuries and traumatic accidents, it can also happen while sleeping.


In this blog, we will explore what shoulder dislocation is, how it is treated, and what to do if you experience a dislocated shoulder while sleeping.


What is Shoulder Dislocation?


The shoulder joint is a ball-and-socket joint, which means the head of the humerus fits into a socket in the scapula. When the head of the humerus gets forced out of this socket, it results in a dislocated shoulder. This can occur due to a sudden impact or twisting motion, such as in a fall or sports injury.


There are two primary types of shoulder dislocations:


  1. Anterior dislocation: This is the most common type of shoulder dislocation, and it occurs when the head of the humerus gets forced out of the socket in front of the shoulder blade.
  2. Posterior dislocation: This is a less common type of shoulder dislocation, and it occurs when the head of the humerus gets forced out of the socket at the back of the shoulder blade.


Causes of Shoulder Dislocation


Shoulder dislocation can occur due to a variety of reasons, including:


  1. Trauma: This is the most common cause of shoulder dislocation, and it can happen due to a fall, a sports injury, or a motor vehicle accident.
  2. Repetitive strain: Certain repetitive motions, such as throwing a ball or swimming, can cause wear and tear on the shoulder joint and increase the risk of dislocation.
  3. Age: As we age, the muscles and ligaments that hold the shoulder joint together can weaken, making the joint more susceptible to dislocation.
  4. Structural abnormalities: Some people are born with structural abnormalities in the shoulder joint that can increase the risk of dislocation.


Symptoms of Shoulder Dislocation


The symptoms of shoulder dislocation can vary depending on the severity of the injury. Some common symptoms include:


  1. Severe pain: The pain associated with shoulder dislocation can be intense and debilitating.
  2. Swelling: The shoulder may become swollen and bruised.
  3. Limited range of motion: You may not be able to move your arm or shoulder as freely as you normally would.
  4. Numbness or tingling: Dislocation can cause nerve damage, which can lead to numbness or tingling.
  5. Deformity: In some cases, the dislocated shoulder may appear visibly out of place or deformed.


Shoulder Dislocation Treatment


Shoulder dislocation treatment depends on the severity of the injury. In certain cases, non-surgical treatment options might be enough, while in other cases, surgery may be required.


Non-Surgical Treatment Options

  1. Immobilisation: The first step in treating a dislocated shoulder is to immobilise the joint. This can be done by wearing a sling or other supportive device that keeps the shoulder in place.
  2. Pain relief medications: Over-the-counter pain medications like ibuprofen or acetaminophen can help you manage the pain associated with shoulder dislocation.
  3. Physical therapy: After the initial duration of immobilisation, physical therapy can help restore range of motion and strength in the shoulder joint.


Surgical Shoulder Dislocation Treatment Options

  1. Arthroscopic shoulder dislocation surgery: This is a minimally invasive surgical procedure that uses a tiny camera and specialised instruments to repair the shoulder joint.
  2. Open shoulder dislocation surgery: In some cases, open surgery may be necessary to repair the damage to the shoulder joint. This involves making a larger cut in the shoulder to access the joint and repair any damage.


Shoulder dislocation surgery is typically reserved for scenarios where non-surgical treatment options have failed or when the dislocation is severe.


Dislocated Shoulder While Sleeping


While shoulder dislocation is more commonly associated with traumatic injuries, it is possible for a dislocated shoulder to occur while sleeping. This can happen due to certain sleeping positions or pre-existing shoulder conditions that increase the risk of dislocation.


Risk Factors for Shoulder Dislocation While Sleeping

  1. Position while sleeping: Sleeping on your side with your arm extended above your head can put pressure on the shoulder joint and increase the risk of dislocation.
  2. Pre-existing shoulder conditions: If you have a history of shoulder problems, such as a previous dislocation or rotator cuff injury, you may be more susceptible to dislocation while sleeping.


Preventing Shoulder Dislocation While Sleeping


People with previous shouldеr issues or a propensіty for dislocatіon can take a numbеr of prеcautions to avoid shoulder dislocation when they sleep:


  1. Use a supportive pillow: Using a supportіve pillow can help you maintain a neutral shoulder position when you sleep, which can significantly lower the risk of dislocation. 
  2. Avoid sleeping on the affected shoulder: For people with a history of shoulder issues or those who are recovеrіng from a dіslocated shouldеr, it is also strongly advised to avoid sleeping on the affected shouldеr. 
  3. Practise good sleep hygiene: Ensurіng that you gеt enough sleеp and that you consistently follow safe sleeping practices can reduce your rіsk of gеttіng hurt and hasten the healіng process.


When to Seek Medical Attention


If you doubt that you might have dislocated your shoulder, it is important to seek medical attention right away. A healthcare professional can perform an evaluation and determine the best course of action for your injury.


If you notice any symptoms, seek medical attention immediately:

  • Severe pain that does not improve with over-the-counter pain medications
  • Numbness or tingling
  • Weakness or loss of sensation in the affected arm or hand
  • Visible deformity or swelling in the shoulder joint
  • Inability to move the affected arm or shoulder




Shoulder dislocation can be really painful. And while shoulder dislocation during sleep is rare, it is possible, especially if you have a pre-existing shoulder condition or sleep in a certain position. If you think that you might have dislocated your shoulder, seek medical attention right away. With prompt diagnosis and shoulder dislocation treatment, most people with shoulder dislocation can recover fully and regain normal function of their shoulder joint. If you think you might have dislocated your shoulder or you’re exhibiting classic signs and symptoms of a shoulder dislocation, visit your nearest hospital today!

Dr. Saif N Shah
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