Dislocated Shoulder Playing Rugby

It comes as no surprise that injuries are common in rugby players due to the nature of it being a high-intensity, fast-moving sport. The shoulder is the second most frequently injured joint after the knee in rugby. A powerful shoulder tackle is most often the culprit for these shoulder injuries. Falls are also frequently accountable.

Shoulders are also one of the most mobile joints in your body and can move in many directions. Your shoulder becomes dislocated when your upper arm bone comes out of its socket in your shoulder blade. Sudden impact on this unstable joint during a rugby match can pull your bone out of its socket. It can dislocate forward, backward or downward, completely or partially.

Many shoulder injuries are recurrent including shoulder dislocations. Once you've had a dislocated shoulder, your joint may become unstable.

How do you know if you have a dislocated shoulder?

If you have dislocated your shoulder you may have the following symptoms:

  • A visibly deformed/out of place shoulder.
  • Inability to move your shoulder joint.
  • Excruciating pain.
  • Swelling and bruising.
  • Numbness or tingling sensation from your neck that can radiate to your arms.
  • Shoulder muscles in spasm.

Treatment of a dislocated shoulder

If you suffer from a dislocated shoulder you must seek Immediate medical attention. A doctor will need to put your shoulder bone back into place.

An x-ray may be performed to confirm the dislocation. You may be given muscle relaxants or a sedative for pain relief before your doctor uses gentle manoeuvres, known as closed reduction, to rotate your arm around your shoulder joint until it goes back into its socket. Typically, you’ll then have another x-ray to check that your shoulder is in the correct position.

You can usually go home the same day once your shoulder is back in place. You’ll need to rest your arm in a sling for a few days while the pain settles. You may experience a lot of pain immediately afterwards and you can take painkillers to relieve this. Your doctor may refer you for physiotherapy to rehabilitate and strengthen your shoulder.

A dislocated shoulder takes between 12 and 16 weeks to heal properly once it’s back in its correct position. You should avoid playing rugby and other physical activities until you have regained a full range of movement and strength in your shoulder joint.

When might surgery be required?

Surgery may be required if your doctor cannot move your dislocated shoulder bones back into position by manipulation.

If you have a weak shoulder joint and experience recurring shoulder dislocations despite undergoing a strengthening and rehabilitation programme, or you have torn ligaments and tendons, then surgery may be recommended.

In rare cases, you might need surgery if your nerves or blood vessels are damaged.

Regaining your strength after dislocation

A few days after your shoulder has been put back in place, your sling is removed and you can start arm and shoulder exercises to reduce stiffness, relieve pain and restore the strength in your shoulder joint.

A shoulder support may help to provide added reassurance.


Strong shoulder muscles are the best defence against shoulder dislocation. It’s recommended that you participate in exercises that build up your shoulder muscles, and your core stability and posture.

Adequate warm-up before activity will also help prevent shoulder dislocation injuries.

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