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Shoulder instability is a problem that occurs when the structures that surround the glenohumeral (shoulder) joint do not work to maintain the ball within its socket. If the joint is too loose, is may slide partially out of place, a condition called shoulder subluxation. If the joint comes completely out of place, this is called a shoulder dislocation. Patients with shoulder instability often complain of an uncomfortable sensation that their shoulder may be about to slide out of place–this is what physicians call apprehension.
Shoulder instability tends to occur in three groups of people:
Prior Shoulder Dislocators. Patients who have sustained a prior shoulder dislocation often develop chronic instability. In these patients, the ligaments that support the shoulder are torn when the dislocation occurs. If these ligaments heal too loosely, then the shoulder will be prone to repeat dislocation and episodes of instability. When younger patients (less than about 35 years old) sustain a traumatic dislocation, shoulder instability will follow in about 80% of patients.
Young Athletes. Athletes who compete in sports that involve overhead activities may have a loose shoulder or multidirectional instability (MDI). These athletes, such as volleyball players, swimmers, and baseball pitchers, stretch out the shoulder capsule and ligaments, and may develop chronic shoulder instability. While they may not completely dislocate the joint, the apprehension, or feeling of being about to dislocate, may prevent their ability to play these sports.
“Double-Jointed” Patients. Patients with some connective tissue disorders may have loose shoulder joints. In patients who have a condition that causes joint laxity, or double-jointedness, their joints may be too loose throughout their body. This can lead to shoulder instability and even dislocations.