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Do I need surgery for treatment of a shoulder dislocation?

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Updated August 12, 2012

Question: Do I need surgery for treatment of a shoulder dislocation?
Answer: Treatment of a shoulder dislocation depends on a number of factors, and some patients may require surgery. When a patient dislocates their shoulder from a traumatic event (e.g. a sports collision, fall, automobile accident, etc.) they are at-risk for developing recurrent dislocations in the future. The chance of shoulder dislocations becoming a recurring problem depends most significantly on the age of the patient. The percentage of re-dislocations are about:
  • Less than 20 years old: 90%
  • 20-30 years old: 75%
  • 30-40 years old: 30%
These are ballpark figures, and other factors contribute to an individual patient's risk of redislocating their shoulder.

Is Surgery Necessary?

Traditionally, most orthopedic surgeons would not choose to operate on a patient after a first dislocation. Rather, after a brief period of immobilization, followed by physical therapy, the patient would gradually resume their normal activities. If the patient sustained a second, or recurrent, dislocation, then surgery was considered.

More recently, there is good scientific evidence to support early surgery, especially in young patients who are at a high risk for redislocation. If you sustain a shoulder dislocation, and are interested in surgery, discuss with your doctor the potential benefits of surgical versus nonsurgical treatment.

Sources:

Kirkley A, et al. "Prospective randomized clinical trial comparing the effectiveness of immediate arthroscopic stabilization versus immobilization and rehabilitation in first traumatic anterior dislocations of the shoulder: long-term evaluation." Arthroscopy. 2005 Jan;21(1):55-63.

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