Dislocated Shoulder Patients Should Consider Non-Surgical Options

Dislocated Shoulder
Many people who suffer from a dislocated shoulder, which is also known as an acromioclavicular (AC) joint dislocation, might seek surgical intervention to correct the problem. However, new research has suggested that dislocated shoulder patients should consider non-surgical options. Experts have found that wearing a sling, setting the shoulder in a corrected position, and undergoing extensive physical therapy might yield better results with such injuries than surgery. In fact, many doctors now believe there is no need to seek surgical intervention unless there is a severe dislocation or other complications.

The AC joint is located at the top of the shoulder, between the top of the shoulder blade (scapula) and the collarbone (clavicle). A dislocated shoulder can occur as the result of a sports injury, but can also be caused by falls, car accidents, or other related traumas.

Dislocated Shoulder

According to researchers, patients who dislocated their AC joint and had their shoulder re-aligned, wore a sling, as well as underwent rehabilitation were able to recover faster. Moreover, these patients also encountered fewer complications during their recovery. Meanwhile, during the surgical procedure, the joint is corrected via a plate and screws. Moreover, surgical patients must also face additional complications such as infection, rejection or allergic reaction to the surgical hardware, and/or loose hardware.

The study, which suggested dislocated shoulder patients should consider non-surgical options, was published in the October 22 edition of the Journal of Orthopaedic Trauma. In the research, scientists studied 83 patients having dislocated shoulders. Out of the participants, 40 were treated with surgery while the remaining 43 were treated via non-surgical methods with a sling and rehab. The researchers found at initial follow-up sessions that patients treated without surgery had better movement of their shoulders than those who had surgery. The follow-up sessions were conducted at six weeks and three months after their injury. The 83 patients observed had moderate to severe AC joint dislocations. The participants were followed for a period of two years. During the study, researchers kept track of the participants’ level of disability, complications, and satisfaction with their shoulder’s appearance.

Dislocated Shoulder

The non-surgical group was found to have more mobility of their shoulders than those individuals who underwent surgical intervention. Moreover, 75 percent of the non-surgical group returned to work after three months. Furthermore, the only major complication encountered by the 43 patients treated with a sling and rehabilitation was the result of a repeat injury.

In the case of the surgical group, approximately 43 percent returned to work after three months compared to the 75 percent of non-surgical participants. Furthermore, seven of the 40 patients who underwent surgical intervention encountered major complications, such as infection, numbness at the incision site, or a loose plate.

While the appearance of the shoulder is a consideration, many researchers believe that doctors should hesitate before recommending surgery for an AC joint dislocation and encourage dislocated shoulder patients to consider non-surgical options, regardless of the severity of the injury involved. While surgery is the common treatment approach for severe AC joint dislocations, there is little evidence to suggest it is the best treatment. In many cases, patients who forgo surgery experience less disability, have fewer complications, and return to work sooner. While surgical intervention may be necessary or even inevitable depending on the injury, dislocated shoulder patients should consider non-surgical options before putting themselves under the knife or at risk for further complications.

Written and Edited by Leigh Haugh

Market Business–Dislocated Shoulder? You Must Think Twice About the Surgery Decision
University Herald–Surgery Not the Best Solution for Dislocated Shoulder
NYCToday–Certain AC Joint Dislocations Could Be Treated Even Without Surgery
Pierce Pioneer–Shoulder Dislocation Injury Can Be Treated Without Surgery

One Response to "Dislocated Shoulder Patients Should Consider Non-Surgical Options"

  1. Suzy   October 26, 2015 at 7:49 am

    My shoulder dislocated for years over and over. I went to various surgeons and due to fears about losing mobility, I went the non-surgical option for a long time with extensive physio. Eventually it was at a point where the dislocations were happening so frequently that I decided to get an MRI (the Xrays weren’t that helpful) and went to a surgeon friend my husband played basketball with. He looked at the MRI and sent me to specialist in Toronto at Sunnybrook Medical Centre to consult with. That surgeon took a look at the MRI and was furious that I hadn’t been sent to him for surgery years ago. He said the physio was actually making things worse because there was so much extensive damage …half the socket had broken off and been re-absorbed, the labrum was in shreds, there were divots of bone missing and he didnt even know how I managed to keep my shoulder in place at all. It didn’t take much for it to slip out (front or backwards).

    So I went in for arthroscopic surgery. Came home with a special sling that held it out from my body but at the right angle, and although he told me that due to the damage it would probably eventually dislocate again…and at that point they would have to do a more extensive surgery where they rebuilt the shoulder socket using bone from my hip, he had reattached things as best he could. The recovery was pretty quilt, much less than I had been told it would be from previous surgeons, and it’s been 6 years now and I am just beginning to feel it started to shift now and then just the tiniest bit (but I’ve also fallen on it a few times which didn’t help). I have not only NOT lost mobility in my arm/shoulder, I have more mobillity than I had when it was dislocating regularly!

    Getting that surgery done was the best thing I have done and wish I’d done it decades sooner. I have three tiny scars that aren’t even noticeable. It’s changed my life for the better. Even though I know I will likely have to get the more extensive repair done in the future due to the huge amount of damage, I am more confident about going through another surgery. Sadly, if I had done the surgery decades earlier, I probably wouldn’t even have to have a second surgery because I’d still have a full bone socket. So you have to be very careful telling people to hold off on surgery and do physio etc. I did that for so many years because that was what kept being recommended and that’s why the joint is now in such horrible condition.


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