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Dislocated Shoulder: How to Care for Your Child
Once a dislocated shoulder is back in place, it needs to be kept in place (immobilized) for a few weeks so it can heal. Afterward, your child can gradually return to normal activities.
Your Child's Diagnosis
A dislocation is when the ligaments that hold the bones of a joint together are stretched and the bones separate. The shoulder can become dislocated due to a blow to it or the upper arm, or when the shoulder gets pulled while the arm is reaching out, which often happens during sports. This causes the top of the upper arm bone (humerus) to slip out of its normal position in the shoulder socket.
Your child's dislocated shoulder may have moved back into place on its own, or the health care provider gently put it back with a maneuver called a reduction. If a reduction was needed, the health care provider gave medication to make your child comfortable during the maneuver.
Your child has been fitted with a shoulder immobilizer or sling to be worn for a few weeks. After the immobilizer is taken off, physical therapy is generally needed to improve shoulder strength and motion. Usually, kids return to most normal activities within a couple of months, although a return to full sports participation can take longer.
Home Care Instructions
- Your child should wear the shoulder sling or immobilizer at all times unless told to remove it by the health care provider.
- Your child should do any exercises as instructed by the health care provider.
- For the first 48 hours, apply a cold pack wrapped in a towel to the shoulder several times a day for up to 15–20 minutes at a time. Do not place ice directly on the skin.
- After the first 48 hours, apply a heating pad for up to 20 minutes at a time.
- If your child is uncomfortable, a medication may help:
- You may give acetaminophen OR ibuprofen, if recommended by your health care provider.
- Schedule a follow-up appointment with an orthopedic doctor (bone specialist) as directed.
Call Your Healthcare Provider if...
- Has numbness or tingling in the arm or hand that lasts more than a few weeks.
- Has new pain, swelling, or bruising in the arm.
- Dislocates the shoulder again.
Go to the ER if...
- The shoulder is extremely painful or swollen.
- Your child has a cold or blue hand that cannot move.
Other Things to Think About
Some kids may have issues with the shoulder tissues that make another shoulder dislocation more likely. Talk to your health care provider about ways to prevent a future dislocation. If your child has repeated dislocations, your health care provider may recommend surgery to repair the tissues in the shoulder.