Treatments for Shoulder instability (dislocated shoulder) in Children

Treatment & Care

At Boston Children's Hospital, the experts in our Orthopedic Center’s Hand and Orthopedic Upper Extremity Program provide comprehensive care for children of all ages with dislocated shoulders. 

How can my child's shoulder be "relocated?

We always recommend that you bring your child to his primary care doctor or to the hospital emergency department for evaluation and treatment if you suspect a shoulder dislocation. 

Sometimes, your child may be able to use his own muscles to "pull" the bone back into the socket. However, the muscles may spasm and be unable to hold the shoulder in place. 

•   Your child's doctor can use medication to relax the muscles, then apply gentle traction to the injured arm and
    relocate the shoulder.
•   Your child's arm will then be put in a sling (or in some cases, a splint) to decrease the stress on the injured area.
•   In some cases, surgery may be necessary.

Surgical options for shoulder instability

When is surgery for needed?

Surgery may be required if, despite following all exercise and other instructions, your child has repeated shoulder dislocations or so much instability in the shoulder that it is causing problems. It may also be necessary if, for some reason, the doctor is unable to put the shoulder back into position following an acute dislocation. 

If surgery is needed, what does it involve?

Surgery usually focuses on fixing or tightening stretched or torn ligaments. The hope is to keep the joint stable and stop it from dislocating, while keeping the range of motion in the joint.

Does surgery usually work?

Typical success rates for surgery for shoulder instability in adolescents and young adults vary from 90 to 95 percent. Strengthening the shoulder joint afterward is a good way to help prevent re-injury. 

Once the shoulder has had a chance to heal, typical exercise programs include exercises like closed grip pull-downs, rowing on a machine and "shrugs" for shoulder blade strength. Exercises are also used to strengthen the muscles around the shoulder, and to increase coordination.

Coping and support

At Boston Children’s Hospital, we want to make your child’s, and your family’s, hospital experience as pleasant as possible. Visit the Hale Family Center for Families or all you need to know about: 

   •   Getting to Boston Children’s
   •   Accommodations
   •   Navigating the hospital experience
   •   Resources that are available for your family