Your Treatment Options for Shoulder Instability

Your Treatment Options for Shoulder Instability

If you have shoulder pain and a persistent feeling that your shoulder is loose, or your shoulder repeatedly gives out, you could have shoulder instability. This occurs when the structures that surround and support the shoulder aren’t working properly. If your shoulder joint is loose, it may slide out of place.

It’s best to visit an orthopedic specialist if you’re having symptoms of shoulder issues. Orthopedic surgeon and shoulder specialist, Matthew Pifer, MD, has extensive experience diagnosing and treating shoulder problems. Dr. Pifer can quickly and effectively diagnose your shoulder instability and discuss the most appropriate treatment option.

In this blog, our experts discuss some of the ways we approach shoulder instability. 

What is shoulder instability?

Several structures, including muscles and ligaments, work together to keep the stable shoulder. An issue with any of these components can cause shoulder instability. Patients who visit us with shoulder instability often have a misalignment of the shoulder joint.

Without proper stability, the shoulder joint can become unstable at the front, back, or in multiple directions. However, anterior (front) instability is the most common. This may be because the shoulder joint is weakest at the front.

When the shoulder becomes unstable, even if you don’t experience pain, you may have problems lifting your arm overhead and completing normal day-to-day activities, as well as sports. 

Why is my shoulder unstable?

The shoulder joint is incredibly flexible, allowing you to lift and rotate your arm in various directions. However, this range of motion comes at a price. The shoulder is vulnerable to instability, which can happen suddenly, or as a result of overuse.

People who had a previous shoulder injury are at a higher risk of shoulder instability. An injury to the shoulder can cause the ligaments to stretch or even tear away from the bone. This often strikes athletes who participate in sports like baseball, which involves repeated shoulder movements.

Some people are born with shoulder joints that are naturally loose. People in this category are often very flexible. Unfortunately, the shoulder joint can slip out and cause instability. The younger you are when this occurs, the more likely you are to have episodes of shoulder instability in the future. On the other hand, joints tend to naturally stiffen with age, making shoulder instability less of a problem for older adults. 

How is shoulder instability treated? 

Rest assured that if you have shoulder instability, there are treatments available to repair the shoulder and restore strength and function. Treatment is recommended after a comprehensive evaluation of your shoulder and depends on various factors.

Often treatment begins with conservative options such as physical therapy. Specific therapeutic exercises designed to strengthen the shoulder can help the shoulder stay in the proper position.

Other non-surgical options include:

It can take several months to assess if the treatment is working.

Surgical repair options

Some people need shoulder surgery to repair and stabilize the shoulder. Dr. Pifer reaches this conclusion only after careful evaluation of your shoulder and any treatments that have failed. Shoulder surgery is very effective at repairing damage to the shoulder, relieving pain, and restoring normal function.

There are various surgical approaches to repair and strengthen the shoulder and prevent future problems. The surgical approach depends on the specifics of your shoulder instability. For example, if a loose shoulder joint is a cause, Dr. Pifer may recommend a procedure to tighten the shoulder capsule. When a torn shoulder ligament is the cause, a procedure called a Bankart repair may be recommended to repair the ligament.

Getting help for shoulder instability

Rehabilitation plays a crucial role in nonsurgical and surgical shoulder instability treatment. Physical therapy is necessary to strengthen the muscles around the shoulder so that the shoulder can return to normal function.

The path to recovery from shoulder instability starts with a visit to a shoulder specialist. If you’re having shoulder trouble, schedule a visit for a thorough evaluation. Contact our Santa Barbara office to schedule a consultation with Dr. Pifer. To keep orthopedic patients connected with high-quality care, we offer in-person and telemedicine appointments. Our team is here to meet your orthopedic needs.

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