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Dislocated Shoulder: Care Instructions

The bones and some of the tissues in the shoulder


When the upper arm comes out of the shoulder socket, it is called a dislocated shoulder. Often you will require a doctor to help put your shoulder joint back into place.

After the doctor puts the shoulder back in place, the doctor may put your arm in a sling or brace to keep it from moving.

Exercise and physiotherapy can help your shoulder get strong and move normally again. It may take up to a year for your shoulder to heal and be pain-free.

If your shoulder keeps coming out of place, talk to your doctor about surgery, which can prevent further dislocations.

You may have had a sedative to help you relax. You may be unsteady after sedation. It can take a few hours for the effects to wear off. Side effects of sedation may include nausea, vomiting, and feeling sleepy or tired.

The doctor has checked you carefully, but problems can develop later. If you notice any problems or new symptoms, get medical treatment right away.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?

  • If the doctor gave you a sedative:
    • For 24 hours, don't do anything that requires attention to detail. This includes going to work, making important decisions, or signing any legal documents. It takes time for the medicine's effects to completely wear off.
    • For your safety, do not drive or operate any machinery that could be dangerous. Wait until the medicine wears off and you can think clearly and react easily.
  • If your doctor put your arm in a sling or shoulder immobilizer, wear it as directed.
  • Take pain medicines exactly as directed.
    • If the doctor gave you a prescription medicine for pain, take it as prescribed.
    • If you are not taking a prescription pain medicine, ask your doctor if you can take an over-the-counter medicine.
  • Put ice or a cold pack on your shoulder for 10 to 20 minutes at a time. Try to do this every 1 to 2 hours for the next 3 days (when you are awake). Put a thin cloth between the ice and your skin.
  • You may use warm packs after the first 3 days for 15 to 20 minutes at a time. This can ease pain.
  • If your doctor gave you exercises to do at home, do them exactly as your doctor told you. You may want to consider going to physiotherapy to get an exercise program to help strengthen your shoulder.
  • Do not do anything that makes the pain worse.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You have trouble breathing.
  • You passed out (lost consciousness).

Call your doctor or nurse advice line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have new or worse nausea or vomiting.
  • You have new or worse pain.
  • Your hand or fingers are cool or pale or change colour.
  • You have tingling, weakness, or numbness in your hand or fingers.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse advice line if:

  • You do not get better as expected.

Where can you learn more?

Go to

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