My son dislocated his shoulder. Does he have to have surgery?

Dear Dr. Millett,

My 19-year old son dislocated his shoulder in a snow machine accident three days ago. The orthopaedic surgeon we consulted recommended surgery. We would like to get a second opinion. Will surgery help? What are the treatments for dislocated shoulders?


Dear Debbie,

Given the situation you described regarding your son’s shoulder dislocation, it would indeed be best to have it evaluated by a shoulder specialist. Shoulder dislocations are fairly common. Certain individuals are at very high risk of re-dislocating, and recurrent dislocations can cause significant disability. Furthermore, when a shoulder re-dislocates, there can be additional damage to the ligaments and the joint surfaces which may increase the risk of arthritis later in life.

Treatments for dislocated shoulders have come a long way. Treatments for dislocated shoulders have come a long way. New arthroscopic, surgical techniques can be used to repair and stabilize shoulders after they dislocate. In some high-risk individuals, surgery may be the best treatment option, even after only a single dislocation. Arthroscopic repair provides a more predictable outcome, minimizes pain, allows the surgery to be performed on an outpatient basis, and decreases the overall risk of complications.

For individuals like your son with a shoulder dislocation, we should discuss the specific treatments for dislocated shoulders and all of the options which preserve the shoulder and alleviate pain. Additional imaging studies such as MRI or CT will probably be needed.

Dr. Millett