Shoulder Instability

The shoulder is a highly moveable joint that is made up of three bones: the upper arm bone, shoulder blade and collarbone. When these bones aren’t held together as tightly as they should be, it can cause the upper arm bone to get moved out of the shoulder socket. When the shoulder moves out of place or feels like it will, it is referred to as shoulder instability.


  • Inability to move the shoulder
  • Pain in the shoulder
  • Popping in the shoulder
  • Repeated shoulder dislocations
  • Sensation of the shoulder feeling stuck, loose, slippery or insecure
  • Shoulder giving out repeatedly
  • Weakness in the shoulder


  • Resistance and weight lifting exercises may help strengthen the shoulder muscles and prevent symptoms of shoulder instability.
  • Shoulder instability is often caused by injuries or overuse from sports or manual labor. Patients should talk to a healthcare provider about how to participate in these activities without destabilizing their shoulder.

Risk factors

  • Activities with repetitive shoulder motions, such as tennis, volleyball, swimming or manual labor
  • Contact sports such as football, hockey or wrestling
  • Falls
  • Naturally loose ligaments
  • Previous shoulder injuries


  • Medical history and symptom review. The healthcare provider will ask about symptoms and medical history.
  • Physical examination. The healthcare provider will move the patient’s arm to look for signs of instability in the shoulder or looseness in the ligaments.
  • Imaging tests. X-rays and MRI scans can help the healthcare provider identify injuries to bones, ligaments and tendons.


  • Conservative management. The health care provider may prescribe medication, lifestyle modification, bracing or splinting, and/or physical therapy to improve symptoms.
  • Surgical treatment. Surgical treatment may be required to repair torn or stretched ligaments.

Follow-up care

  • After surgery, patients may need to use a sling.
  • Physical therapy will be used to help improve range of motion, prevent scarring, and strengthen the shoulder.


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