Shoulder Instability

  • Orthopedic Specialty Center
  • 192 Tilley Drive
    South Burlington, VT 05403
  • Phone: 802-847-2663
  • Fax: 802-847-3792
  • Monday-Friday, 8 AM-5 PM
  • Directions

When you shrug, throw a ball or work overhead, you are using the shoulder. Muscles and ligaments help hold the shoulder in place, allowing it to move and rotate. However, certain activities or conditions may injure or weaken these structures. This may cause the shoulder to become unstable. At Fletcher Allen Health Care, our team of shoulder experts has extensive experience in diagnosing and treating shoulder instability.

Shoulder Instability: Causes and Symptoms

There are many causes of shoulder instability. Common causes include:

  • Sports trauma - Athletes participating in contact, or collision sports, such as football players are especially prone to shoulder dislocation.
  • Falls
  • Ligamentous laxity “loose jointed” - Common in young overhead athletes (swimmers and gymnasts)

Symptoms of shoulder instability include:

  • Feeling the shoulder is about to “come out of place,” accompanied by discomfort or pain
  • Experiencing a clicking sensation or looseness in the shoulder while performing daily tasks
  • If the ball separates completely from the socket, you may experience severe pain and inability to feel the arm 

Diagnosing Shoulder Instability

If you experience shoulder discomfort or pain, make an appointment with one of our experienced shoulder specialists. We offer the full spectrum of advanced diagnostic procedures. We will ask you about your symptoms and your medical history, perform a comprehensive physical exam and may recommend one or more imaging scans.

Imaging scans we perform include:

  • X-ray - An X-ray takes detailed images of your shoulder and arm.
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) - MRIs use powerful magnets to create detailed images. At Fletcher Allen, we have onsite MRI capabilities, so you can get your MRI done quickly and efficiently. In addition to our high-strength MRI machines, our fellowship-trained musculoskeletal radiologists have advanced training in diagnosing shoulder instability.
  • Computed Tomography (CT) - This uses X-ray images from many different angles to create cross-sectional pictures of your bones and tissues.

Treating Shoulder Instability

After the imaging scans, we can recommend a detailed, personalized treatment plan for you. Treatment options include:

  • Nonsurgical treatment for shoulder instability 
  • Surgery for shoulder instability

Nonsurgical treatment for shoulder instability

We may recommend treating your shoulder with a combination of nonsurgical methods, including:

  • Period of rest and immobilization - Avoid using the shoulder, giving it a chance to rest and heal itself.
  • Anti-inflammatory medications - These can reduce the inflammation in your shoulder joint and relieve your symptoms.
  • Physical therapy - We have onsite physical therapy with therapists trained in shoulder rehabilitation. Our shoulder specialists work closely with the physical therapists to ensure you are receiving the care you need.
  • Bracing - This may be appropriate for athletes who are in the middle of their playing season. Fletcher Allen provides an onsite bracing provider to fit you with a custom brace.

Surgery for Shoulder Instability

We offer both minimally invasive and traditional, open surgery. We always strive to use a minimally invasive approach, because it leads to less pain and has a lower risk of infection. However, we always have your best outcome in mind. We may decide that an open approach will offer you better results. Our surgeons have extensive experience in both types of surgery.

Surgical procedures include:

  • Shoulder arthroscopy - This is a minimally invasive procedure. Using small incisions, we access the shoulder area to repair the damage. Types of arthroscopic procedures include:
    • Anterior/posterior instability repair
    • Multidirectional instability repair
  • Open shoulder surgery - This is a traditional surgical procedure. Surgeons use a wider incision, exposing the shoulder in order to perform the necessary repairs.  This includes  the Latarjet procedure, an advanced procedure to treat shoulder instability caused by bone loss. 

Shoulder Instability: Rehabilitation

After your surgery, you will be asked to wear a sling for up to 6 weeks. During your recovery period:

  • Physical therapy is beneficial to regaining full shoulder function. At Fletcher Allen, we plan an individualized rehabilitation program for you. You can complete the physical therapy onsite at our facility. Our surgical team works closely with the physical therapy team to ensure that your plan meets your needs. 
  • Pain medicine may be necessary immediately after surgery. Your doctor will discuss this with you before surgery.
  • When you can return to work or sports depends on your specific surgery.  We will discuss your recovery plan with you.

Contact Us

Find a Fletcher Allen physician or call us at 802-847-2663.