Is My Shoulder Sprained or Dislocated?: Here's How to Tell!


Is My Shoulder Sprained or Dislocated?: Here's How to Tell!

Shoulder sprains and dislocations are some of the most common shoulder injuries that people face. Although shoulder trauma is normally caused by physical activities like swimming, tennis, weightlifting, and sports, they can also happen during everyday tasks.  When a shoulder injury occurs, many people find themselves wondering, “Is my shoulder sprained or dislocated”?

Well, one of the best ways to decipher the difference between shoulder sprain and dislocation is to understand the symptoms of both. Although each injury causes immense pain, a sprain involves the ligaments and dislocation involves the bones.

Essentially, the best way to know if you have a shoulder sprain or dislocation is if the bone comes out of the socket. To learn more about each injury and how to treat them, keep reading the info below.

How Do I Know If I Have a Sprained Shoulder?

A shoulder sprain occurs when a ligament in your shoulder is stretched or torn. Ligaments consist of sturdy tissue that connects bones together. They also help to aid in rotating, lifting, and lowering the arms. 

Shoulder sprains are also known as an acromioclavicular joint injury. The AC joint is the region where the ligaments connect with the collarbone. When an injury occurs to this area, the ligaments that support the shoulder are damaged and the AC joint is separated.

Common symptoms of a shoulder sprain include:

  • Swelling and tenderness
  • Discomfort and pain when moving the shoulder
  • Bruises
  • Changes in skin color

 Common Causes of a Shoulder Sprain

A shoulder sprain generally occurs when backward force is pressed on the arm and it pulls the shoulder ligaments. 

This type of trauma causes tearing of the ligaments and muscles in the front area of the shoulder. Most of the incidents that lead to shoulder sprains are falling directly on the shoulder, vehicle accidents, jolts to the shoulder blade, and sports injuries. 

Furthermore, there are are other circumstances that contribute to shoulder sprains, such as:

  • Sports: Individuals who play sports have a higher risk of getting a shoulder sprain—especially if they play a sport the requires constant motion or rotation of the shoulder.
  • Not Warming Up Properly: If a person doesn’t warm up properly before engaging in physical activity, they are more prone to shoulder sprains.
  • Fatigue: A person is also more likely to overextend their shoulder if they’re tired.

It's not always possible to avoid a shoulder sprain because accidents happen.

However, in situations where you can potentially prevent it—like stretching before a workout—it's important to do so.

The Various Levels of a Shoulder Sprain

The level of your shoulder sprain depends on how deeply you tear the AC joint or the coracoclavicular ligaments that secure the joint in place.

Level 1: The AC ligament is torn a little, but there's no severe damage and the CC ligament is unharmed.

Level 2: The AC ligament is torn all the way through, and there's minimal tearing to the CC ligament.

Level 3: Both the AC and CC ligaments are torn completely. In this situation, the collarbone disconnects from the end of the shoulder blade.

Shoulder Sprain Treatments

After determining the answer to the question of “ Is my shoulder sprained or dislocated?”, you can move on to properly treating your shoulder injury. Below are a few effective methods to help your sprain heal:

Shoulder Brace

A shoulder brace is an effective form of treatment for shoulder injuries. Your shoulder requires support as it’s repairing itself. A brace helps the shoulder rest and it immobilizes it. Also, it aids in prevents re-injury.


Acetaminophen reduces pain and fever. Your doctor can write a prescription for it, and it’s also available over the counter. Prescriptions usually come in a higher dosage.

Therefore, if your injury is severe, its a better idea to get from a physician rather than over the counter.

Physical Therapy 

If the shoulder sprain was caused by a sports injury, physical therapy is a good option. It helps players heal faster so they can get back to the game.

But it may also be suggested by a healthcare professional if they feel a patient needs it. A physical therapist provides exercises to enhance movement and strength and minimize pain.


NSAIDs such as ibuprofen reduce swelling, fever, and pain. It’s generally prescribed by a physician. It’s available in drug stores as well. 

Prescription Pain Medication

When a shoulder sprain is extensive, the doctor normally prescribes pain medication. Pain meds are more effective in easing discomfort. For patients who’ve experienced severe trauma to the shoulder, stronger medication is required.

How Do I Know If I Dislocated My Shoulder?

A dislocated shoulder occurs when the upper arm bone pops out of the shoulder blade socket. The shoulder is one of the most mobile body parts, which makes it prone to dislocation. 

A dislocated shoulder is either partial or complete. That means that the joint fully or partially came out of the socket.

Common symptoms of a dislocated shoulder are:

  • Bruising
  • Inflammation
  • Immense Pain
  • The inability to rotate or move the joint
  • Shoulder blade deformed or out of place

Shoulder dislocation can also cause numbness or a weak feeling. Some people experience tingling near the injury as well. Furthermore, the muscles in the shoulder may spasm from impact, which increased the severity of the pain.

Common Causes of Shoulder Dislocation

The shoulder joint is the most common dislocated joint in the body. Since it rotates in various directions, it can dislocate either forward, downward, or backward. 

However, it requires strong force for a  dislocation to occur. Incidents like a quick blow to the shoulder can knock the bones out of place. 

Also, extensive rotation of the shoulder joint will rip the ball of the upper arm bone out of the shoulder socket. Common accidents that cause shoulder dislocation include:

Sports injuries: A dislocated shoulder happens within contact sports like football, basketball, and hockey. It also occurs in sports that could cause falls like volleyball and gymnastics.

Car crashes:  A forceful blow to your shoulder during a car accident is another cause of shoulder dislocation.

Falls: Everyday occurrences like falling contribute to shoulder dislocations. For instance, falling from a ladder or slipping on a rug sometimes results in a serious injury.

 In addition to the incidents listed above, there are other circumstances that contribute to shoulder dislocation. Not being careful when doing hazardous work and not wearing protective gear during sports increase the risk of accidents.

To help to prevent this type of injury, it’s important to exercise regularly. Doing so maintains the flexibility and strength within the muscles and joints.

Shoulder Dislocation Treatments

Is my shoulder sprained or dislocated? That’s likely one of the first questions you’ll ask yourself when the injury occurs. Although it’s sometimes easy to confuse the symptoms of a shoulder sprain and shoulder dislocation, there are distinct differences between the two.

The treatments for dislocation are similar to those of a shoulder sprain and include the following:

A Closed Reduction

When you have a dislocated shoulder, you’ll need a closed reduction. It’s a procedure in which your physician pushes the ball of your upper arm back into the socket. At the beginning of the injury, the pain is intense. But once the socket is back in its proper place, the pain reduces tremendously.

If you are asking yourself, “ How do I know if I dislocated my shoulder?”, this is one of the telltale signs. A dislocation completely separates the bone and socket, which doesn’t happen with a sprain.

Wearing a Brace

As with a shoulder sprain, a brace is another treatment option for keeping your shoulder in the proper position. You’ll have to wear it for a few days to several weeks. It’ll give your shoulder the support it needs and prevent re-injury.

Pain Meds

Pain meds are an effective form of treatment for a shoulder dislocation. NSAIDs and acetaminophen are both useful in recovery.

But as previously stated, the pain will reduce once your shoulder is put back in the proper location. After you receive a closed reduction, you may or may not feel the need to continue taking pain meds.


A shoulder dislocation causes a lot of trauma to the damaged area. Going to rehab will help to get the shoulder operating properly again. Doing exercises improves the range of motion and strengthens muscles.

What Happens If You Leave a Sprained/ Dislocated Shoulder?

A shoulder injury is painful and a traumatic experience. When it first occurs, you probably won’t know what to think or how to diagnose yourself. With thoughts like “Is my shoulder sprained or dislocated?”, your only concern may be to treat the problem yourself and hope the pain goes away.

However, you never want to do that. There are numerous consequences to leaving a shoulder injury untreated. Not only does it hurt, but ignoring the injury interferes with daily activities like bathing, eating, and lifting objects.

There are also more severe outcomes like the following:

Injury to the Blood Vessels and Nerves

Sometimes a shoulder dislocation causes damage to the axillary artery. It’s the artery that travels through the arm and provides blood to the arm. This is a rare occurrence, but it’s often seen in patients who are older.

A shoulder dislocation could also trigger damage to the axillary nerve. The nerve originates from the armpits down to the cervical spine levels C5 and C6. This type of injury results in loss of mobility or sensation in the shoulder.

However, axillary artery and nerve damage due to shoulder dislocation are uncommon as well.

But it’s important to note that if you dismiss your symptoms and don’t get proper treatment, it can happen.

Multidirectional Instability

If you leave shoulder dislocation untreated, the shoulder could become unstable. It’ll feel loose or disconnected in multiple directions.  Therefore, the ball will rotate forward, backward, or away from the shoulder, which is known as multi-directional instability.   


The bursa is a small fluid-filled sac that contains synovial fluid. It helps to minimize friction between bones and permits free range of the bones. 

Bursitis is a condition that causes inflammation to the bursa. Symptoms of this problem appear later, not immediately. The pain is felt just outside the shoulder. As a result, keeping your arm to the side or lifting the arm causes pain and discomfort.

Neck and Upper Back Pain

Issues that are left untreated due to a dislocated shoulder joint can cause pain in the surrounding nerves of the neck and upper back. When one area of the body isn’t functioning properly, it’s natural for complications to spread to other areas. If you don’t get treatment, you can expect to start hurting all over. 

Shoulder Pain Complications

If left untreated, a shoulder sprain can travel to other tendons and joints that are closely connected. Since the shoulders give balance to the upper body, the injured area is heavier. This occurrence causes the other side of the body to work harder, which creates complications due to pressure and weight.


If you don’t tend to your shoulder sprain or dislocation, you may need surgery later. This could also happen if you don’t allow the damage to heal all the way. Not taking care of the problem only makes it worse and eventually requires more extensive treatment.

Is My Shoulder Sprained or Dislocated? An Effective Solution

Suffering a shoulder injury is painful. When you're hurting it's understandable to wonder, “Is my shoulder sprained or dislocated”? Thankfully, there are effective treatments to help your body heal. 

If you're looking for shoulder support to cope with your injury, PowerRebound has what you're looking for. We have a variety of shoulder braces to assist you with recovery. Additionally, our inventory includes support braces for your knees, elbows, back, and ankles. 

As a perk to our customers, we offer free worldwide shipping. You can count on us to provide what you need to stay happy and healthy.

If you have questions for us, feel free to contact us online. We're here to help you feel healthy and whole!

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