The Difference Between Shoulder Dislocation and Shoulder Separation

The Difference Between Shoulder Dislocation and Shoulder Separation

The SportsMedicine Minute with Dr. Bill Sterett


Want some great trivia to break out during your next sports-medicine themed dinner party?  Try this.

I hear people refer to shoulder separations and shoulder dislocations as the same thing quite often, and while I understand the confusion, I thought I'd take some time today to identify the difference between the two injuries.  

(For you image-loving visual learners, take a look at the embedded slideshow at the end of this article to get a quick look at the difference between shoulder separations and shoulder dislocations.) #shoulderseparations #shoulderdislocations

What is a Shoulder Dislocation?

Shoulder Dislocations are when the ball pops out of the socket.  90% of the time the ball comes out the front of the shoulder and only 10% of the time does it come out the back. 

Usually this happens when we have the arm out overhead and behind the body, much like the cocking phase of throwing.  In this position a forceful external force pushing the lower arm even more rotated will cause the shoulder to lever out of the socket. 

Aging and Ongoing Risk Factors #shoulderdislocation

The risk of dislocating the shoulder a second time is related to the age of the athlete when he/she first dislocates and the activities they like to participate in.  Once a shoulder dislocates a second time, it gets easier and easier for it to pop out again in the future and usually needs to be fixed surgically.

What is a Shoulder Separation?

A Grade 2 AC Shoulder Separation

A Grade 2 AC Shoulder Separation

Shoulder Separations, on the other hand, have nothing to do with the ball and socket joint.  The point where the clavicle comes into the end of the scapula, called the acromion, gets “separated” by tearing the ligaments attaching these two.  Typically these do not require surgery, but may, depending upon the degree of separation.

Any Questions? #shoulderseparation

Hope that helps! If you have any questions, don't hesitate to email me. Stay out there, stay active, and take care of those shoulders!


Dr. William Sterett

Dr. William Sterett

Dr. Sterett is Board Certified by the American Board of Orthopaedic Surgery, a member of the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine, a member of the Arthroscopy Association of North America, and is one of the few physicians who have earned a Certificate of Added Qualification in Sports Medicine.

Dr. Sterett has published more than 30 peer-reviewed articles and has lectured regionally, nationally and internationally on hundreds of occasions over the past twenty years.  He currently holds patents on orthopedic devices involved in Joint Preservation and works as a consultant to Arthrex and Biomet sports medicine companies.

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