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The loose shoulder or shoulder instability -- causes and treatment

The capsule that surrounds the shoulder joint is a very strong ligament that helps to keep the shoulder in the joint and functioning normally. In most people it is very difficult to tear the ligaments of the capsule or pull the shoulder out of joint. These injuries usually occur only when a lot of force has been applied to the shoulder or the arm -- like in a tackle football game. There are some people who have a capsule that is a little bit too loose. If the shoulder slips partially out of joint, this is called "subluxation". A dislocated shoulder occurs when the shoulder comes completely out of joint. Use the link at the bottom of this page to read more about the causes of shoulder instability:

If the shoulder slips in and out of joint more than once or twice, or frequently slips partially out of joint and then returns on its own, then the joint is said to be "unstable". This condition can create a lot of problems for patients because they may not be able to do certain activities because they are afraid their shoulder will slip out of joint if they move their arm into certain positions. This is a particularly big problem for people who work with their hands above their heads or are "overhead athletes", like baseball pitchers and tennis players, who depend upon their shoulder to play certain sports. There is also a concern that the surface cartilage of the shoulder can be damaged if it slips in and out of joint frequently.

Shoulder instability is one of the more challenging disorders that orthopedic surgeons treat. The incredible range of motion that the shoulder is capable of is achieved by balancing the structures that permit motion (the shallow ball and socket joint of the shoulder) with the structures that stabilize and move the shoulder: the muscles, tendons, and capsule of the shoulder joint. Once this balance is upset, it can be challenging to correct it without causing excessive tightness or leaving the patient with too much looseness. The treatment options for shoulder instability are discussed further in the following sections:


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