What is Chronic Shoulder Instability?

The shoulder is the most mobile joint of the body. Instability to this joint can happen when the head of the upper arm bone is forced out of the shoulder socket.

Frequent shoulder dislocation is the most common cause of shoulder instability. However, it can also happen as a result of sudden injury or overuse. People who are into sports like swimming, tennis, and volleyball are vulnerable to this kind of injury. The repeated overhead motion can eventually weaken the shoulder ligaments, leading to instability. Certain jobs like painting can also make people more prone to having shoulder instability.

Symptoms of Chronic Shoulder Instability

Pain is the most common symptom of chronic shoulder instability. People with shoulder instability may also feel a persistent sensation of their shoulders feeling loose, slipping in and out of the joint, or just hanging there.

Diagnosing Chronic Shoulder Instability

Like most shoulder injuries, chronic shoulder instability is only diagnosed after taking the medical history and a thorough physical exam.

During the physical exam, the doctor will assess the shoulder and may do some tests to determine the looseness of the ligaments.

Aside from the physical exam, imaging tests like X-rays and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan may be ordered to help confirm the diagnosis.

How It Is Treated

Nonsurgical intervention is the initial approach to chronic shoulder instability. This treatment plan includes activity modification, taking of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin for pain, and physical therapy to strengthen the shoulder muscles.

In many cases, surgery is recommended to repair the torn or stretched ligaments so they can better hold the shoulder joint.

Arthroscopy is one of the surgical options for chronic shoulder instability. In this procedure, the surgeon uses a tiny camera to help him/her perform the surgery using pencil-thin instruments. It’s a minimally-invasive procedure that can be done on an outpatient basis.