Dislocated shoulders happen when the upper arm pops out of the shoulder joint. The upper arm bone sits in a very shallow socket, which makes it highly mobile, but also prone to dislocation due to its shallow sitting position.

It is important to apply some basic first aid and then transport the casualty to the nearest Accident & Emergency (A&E) unit.

Signs & Symptoms

The shoulder can dislocate at any time when you fall on your shoulder heavily, including cycling and contact sports such as rugby. In older people it can dislocate when falling onto outstretched arms. 

Look out for the following signs & symptoms in order to establish that the shoulder is potentially dislocated:
  • Inability to move the arm and pain when doing so
  • Deformity when looking at the shoulder (compared to the other side)
  • Lump / bulge under the skin at the top of the arm bone
Helpful hint - The shoulder can look square instead of the normal round shape when dislocated


The main course of treatment is to transport the casualty to A&E where a trained doctor will safely put the shoulder back into its socket. At no time should an un-trained medical professional attempt to put the shoulder back into its socket. When at the scene it is important to watch out for this situation and to stop anyone from doing so.

Before you go it is possible to help the casualty by immobilising the joint with a sling. This won’t fix the problem but it can help reduce pain in the shoulder and limit any further damage. The best technique is the elevated sling which is pictured below:

If you don't know how to tie this sling, you can also achieve the same effect by lifting a jumper or long sleeved t-shirt over the injured arm:

If either of the above are not possible or if the casualty is in too much pain then get them to adopt the most comfortable position for themselves, and then transport them to A&E in that position.