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  • Dr. Mark Freund

The Difference between Dislocation and Subluxation

Updated: Sep 24, 2021

consultation with chiropractor explaining subluxation

Each bone in the joints can lead to a dislocation or a subluxation. In the upper body, dislocations occur more frequently in the hip joints and shoulders, while a subluxation, also called incomplete or partial dislocations occur more frequently in the fingers, knees, toes, and elbows. The most common dislocations of the large joints affect the humerus of the shoulder, the lumbar vertebrae, and the pelvis.

There are two types of shoulder injuries that you may experience: shoulder subluxations and shoulder dislocation. Both can occur due to underlying instability of the shoulder joint and a variety of other factors. The capsule, ligaments, and labrum can be stretched,

detached, or torn from the bone in case of shoulder subluxation. It is often difficult to determine whether it is a subluxation or a dislocation. There are subtle differences between these two shoulder injuries, and both have an impact on the joint’s mobility.

examining shoulder injury

Shoulder dislocation and shoulder subluxation are slightly different conditions. Although the two terms are used interchangeably, they bear little resemblance to each other. The term "subluxations" means partial dislocations, while "dislocations" denotes full separation from the joints. If you have a shoulder injury, it helps if you understand the difference, how to deal with it accordingly, and how to manage varying problems associated with them in the future.

Medically, the shoulder is a glenohumeral joint that meets at the base of the pelvis and is connected to the elbow and shoulder joints. The shoulder can move in any direction and has the potential to dislocate in many different ways. The movement of the joint is based on the fact that the ball and joints are still in the right position to function properly. Despite the major differences between the two injuries, they show the same symptoms, two of which are the most obvious: pain and inability to move the arm.

Subluxation usually affects the shoulder structure, and so do shoulder dislocations. Dislocation and subluxation are just two possible causes of pain, so if you suffer from shoulder pain, please see your doctor for a full assessment.

What Is Subluxation?

Subluxation is a partial dislocation in which the two bones of the joint are still partially in contact with each other. Subluxations can also occur in the knee, whereby patellar subluxation refers specifically to a partial dislocation of the kneecap. If the ligaments become too loose, it becomes unstable and pulls on the inside of the knee. Depending on the severity of patellar subluxation, without proper treatment, it can lead to a knee dislocation. Subluxation is not limited to shoulder or kneecaps. It can also occur in your spine and hip.

examining knee injury

Contortions and subluxations can be a problem that can be irritating or debilitating. However, it does not necessarily ruin your life as much as a complete dislocation could. In some cases, the joint slips out of alignment first and simply finds its own way back. In others, it does not come back in and can cause severe pain. For example, the patella, also known as the kneecap, is dislocated only briefly and returns to its normal position after swelling. Either way, you can try to reduce the frequency of the pain with the help of chiropractic treatments.

You can avoid these potential issues if you consult a chiropractor and get proper treatment. If it repeats or continuously reoccurs, it can cause a lot of pain and discomfort for the rest of your life.

What Is Shoulder Subluxation?

Shoulder subluxation is defined as a partial dislocation of the glenoid forte in which the humerus is in contact with it. Shoulder Subluxations can be defined in different ways, as long as the glenoid fossa is in contact with them and the radial heads are not. A Glenohumeral subluxation or incomplete dislocation is usually due to a change in the mechanical integrity of the joint.

In shoulder subluxation, a bump at the tip of the shoulder may occur, and a ball in the joint protrudes from the glenoid forte. This can be less painful than a complete dislocation and is more common in some joints than others such as in the shoulders, knees, thumbs, and ankles. The arm bone and base joint in the humerus, for example, can lead to a subluxation when the ball comes off from the base but is still attached to the base.

shoulder pain injury

This injury can happen when you fall off from a great height. As your natural instinct is to put your hands in front of you to try and stop a fall, it can severely affect your shoulder base. When you hit the ground, the ball can bounce off your shoulder and partially dislocate. In this case, the ball and the base are not completely separated from each other, but the two structures of the joint are still in contact. Subluxation is embedded in the shoulder and denotes that alignment has shifted.

In a person with shoulder subluxation, partial dislocation occurs in which the annular band holding the shoulder to the elbow slips off the top of the bone. The largest of these ligaments is the glenohumeral ligator, which is often damaged or overstretched in the case of subluxations of the shoulder joint. A partial dislocation of the shoulder is the result of a failed or failing ligamentous apparatus or designation for a dislocated joint.

Causes of Shoulder Subluxation

Subluxations can include a variety of factors, such as a lack of mobility of the shoulder joint, overuse of the ligament or muscles, joint failure, or injury of a bone. The rotator cuff is a group of muscles and connective tissue that holds the joints together. When this muscle is torn, the ball of the joint loosens, and the remaining glenoid forte is dislocated.

For example, if a baseball player suffers an injury to his rotator cuff, this can lead to shoulder subluxation. The supporting architecture of the joint, such as ligaments and tendons, can weaken the joints and lead to immobility, even dislocations. The capsule and ligaments of the labrum joint can stretch, loosen and tear from the bone in case of shoulder differences and dislocations. Flexibility, especially in hypermobility cases, can also make it so easy for the shoulder to dislocate and cause problems in the future.

What Is Shoulder Dislocation?

Dislocation is defined as the separation of the two bones that form the joint and can pass in both directions. The important point to note here is that they are completely separate from each other. This means that the shoulder has moved away from its normal location from out of its socket and is completely not in place. The shoulder has a ball and base joint, and a shoulder dislocation occurs when the ball, which forms the tip of an arm bone, slips out of the socket cavity where it sits in the shoulders and gets out of connection.

complaining about shoulder pain

If you have a shoulder dislocation, this means that the ball and the socket have completely separated. A hard hit on the shoulder is enough to change the alignment and cause injury. Note that it is only one of many possible causes of shoulder dislocation.

Most dislocations are anterior. This means that the spherical section of the upper arm is pulled out of the eye socket and pressed against the body. A shoulder dislocation can stretch or tear the surrounding ligaments, tendons, and muscles and cause severe pain. This is a common injury because the glenoid fossa is very shallow and can be loosened without much effort. If it detaches completely from its glenoid fossa, it can cause a dislocation of both the glands and the outlet.

showing what shoulder dislocation is

The natural inclination when experiencing shoulder pain or injury is to carry the weight of the arm with the other hand. When there is a shoulder dislocation, the ball can come off the socket and make the shoulder look visibly deformed. It is often coupled with swelling in the joints, tingling in the arm, or bruising around the joints.

Fractures can often occur in connection with dislocation. If the injury to the joint that causes dislocation or subluxation is violent, small bone fragments can break through the supporting structure of the joint, such as the glenohumeral ligator, and tear the shoulder capsule, which can stretch or tear. A dislocation of the shoulder can also be accompanied by fractures, but no one can have a fracture and dislocation of the arm simultaneously. While a bone or joint fracture can occur anywhere, dislocations can also occur in any joint at any time.


The treatment of these two injuries depends on whether the humerus is completely dislocated and how much damage has been done to the connective tissue of the joint. Luring the ball back to an outlet can ease the pain for a few days or even weeks after the injury, but not for long. Here are some treatments that can help reduce the frequency of these injuries:

physical therapy for shoulder pain injury

Imaging can be done to show your doctor the extent of the injury so that you can receive the right treatment. The treatment plan includes pain therapy, immobilization, and physical therapy. The next step after an emergency medical treatment is to correctly diagnose the injury and reduce the risk of permanent damage.

  • The best course of action is to immediately immobilize the shoulder with a splint or sling if you think you have a subluxation or dislocation.

  • Immobilization and anterior dislocation are usually treated with rehabilitation.

  • Exercises are performed to strengthen the shoulder and regain stability.

  • Ice therapy can also help by providing ice to the joint to reduce swelling and relieve pain.

In shoulder subluxation, the aim is not to treat the mechanical problem on the torn rotator cuff to allow it to heal. If the shoulder subluxation is chronic or the shoulder ligaments are weak, consult a doctor for the appropriate treatment. We recommend an appointment with a trained physical therapist as a treatment for a shoulder injury can vary depending on the nature of the injury and the severity of the injury, such as a fracture or dislocation.

How Can I Prevent Dislocations and Subluxations?

While it is better to prevent situations that lead to these types of injuries than to have to deal with them, it is difficult to truly avoid them. The best thing you can do is to be aware of what you can do using the knowledge you have gained from this article on how dislocations and subluxations can occur. Calm yourself to avoid worsening the condition when you seek medical help. When the pain is frequent, the most common (and perfectly understandable) reaction is to panic. However, panic causes more stress and more muscle spasms. The stress caused by muscle spasms increases the likelihood of a dislocation. The most valuable thing to do after a subluxation or a dislocation is to think about the event before making a move to give yourself a chance to calm down and let a medical professional assist you.

Why See a Chiropractor

Immediate medical treatment and follow-up are important as torn muscles and ligaments typically make the shoulder unstable and make it easier for it to bounce off out of place.

chiropractor treating shoulder injury

Seek a good and certified specialist or chiropractor at Natural Care Chiropractic who can make the correct diagnosis in order to avoid further joint damage as well as examine the possible causes of pain. A chiropractor will thoroughly look at your medical history and physically examine your condition to determine the extent of subluxation and the severity of pain in the shoulder. They may also assess other possible injuries in your body. Contact our clinic or book an appointment with us on our website.


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