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Difference Between Shoulder Separation and Dislocation: What You Need to Know


The shoulder, a complex and highly mobile joint, is crucial for many of our daily activities. This versatility, however, also makes the shoulder more susceptible to injuries such as dislocations and separations. Though these terms are often used interchangeably, they represent distinct injuries. In this article, we will dissect the differences between shoulder dislocation and separation, shedding light on their causes, symptoms, and treatments.

1. Anatomy of the Shoulder

Before diving into the injuries, it’s crucial to understand the anatomy of the shoulder. The shoulder comprises three bones:

  • Humerus (upper arm bone)
  • Scapula (shoulder blade)
  • Clavicle (collarbone)

Two main joints facilitate shoulder movement:

  • Glenohumeral joint: Where the head of the humerus fits into a shallow socket in the scapula.
  • Acromioclavicular (AC) joint: Where the clavicle meets the scapula.

2. Shoulder Dislocation

A shoulder dislocation occurs when the head of the humerus pops out of its socket, either partially (subluxation) or completely. This injury primarily affects the glenohumeral joint.

Shoulder dislocations typically result from a forceful blow or extreme rotation of the arm, such as in sports injuries, falls, or severe trauma.


  • Intense pain
  • Visible deformation if the shoulder is fully dislocated
  • Swelling or bruising
  • Inability to move the joint
  • A feeling of numbness or tingling down the arm

Immediate medical attention is required. The treatment process generally involves:

  • Reduction: Realigning the head of the humerus into the socket.
  • Immobilisation: Using a sling or brace to keep the shoulder from moving.
  • Physical therapy: Strengthening the shoulder muscles and improving its range of motion.
  • Surgery: In some cases, especially recurrent dislocations, surgical intervention may be necessary to repair or tighten the torn or stretched ligaments.

3. Shoulder Separation

Shoulder separation concerns the Acromioclavicular (AC) joint, where the collarbone and the highest point of the shoulder blade meet. It involves the tearing of the ligaments connecting the collarbone to the shoulder blade.

Commonly resulting from a direct blow to the top of the shoulder or a fall on an outstretched hand.


  • Pain at the top of the shoulder
  • Swelling or bruising
  • A bump or raised area over the AC joint
  • Limited shoulder movement, especially when raising the arm

The severity of a shoulder separation determines its treatment:

  • Mild separations: Treated with rest, ice, and pain relievers.
  • Moderate separations: May require physical therapy and wearing a sling for a certain period.
  • Severe separations: Often necessitate surgical intervention to repair the torn ligaments.


Shoulder dislocations and separations, though both concerning the shoulder, involve different parts of the joint and require distinct treatments. If one suspects they’ve suffered either of these injuries, prompt medical attention is vital. Understanding the differences can aid in recognizing the injury and seeking the most appropriate care, ensuring a swift and successful recovery.

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This article was written by our team of specialist therapists at Perfect Balance Clinic. If you would like more specific advice about how our team can help you with this condition or symptoms you may be having, please complete the contact form below and one of the team will get back to you shortly.

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