Shoulder Instability | Orthopaedics | Loyola Medicine

Shoulder Instability

Overview and Facts about Shoulder Instability

Cartilage tears, sometimes called Bankart lesions, happen when you dislocate your shoulder.

A cartilage tear is a ligament injury to the glenohumeral joint (the shoulder’s main ball and socket joint) in a part of the shoulder called the labrum. When a dislocation of the shoulder occurs, it often tears the labrum, resulting in a cartilage tear. It is a common injury for athletes who compete in overhand activities, such as volleyball, tennis and handball. 

Symptoms of Shoulder Instability

Symptoms of a cartilage tear will begin after the shoulder has been dislocated and set back into place. Symptoms include:

  • Weakness in shoulder
  • Instability in shoulder
  • Repeated dislocations
  • Aching or pain in shoulder
  • “Catching,” or unintentional interruption of an otherwise fluid shoulder movement
  • The feeling that you may dislocate your shoulder when you place your arm behind your head 

Causes and Risk Factors of Shoulder Instability

Shoulder instability occurs when you dislocate your shoulder. You may be at a higher risk of dislocating your shoulder if you participate in sports or activities that involve repeated overhand motions, falls or collisions. Other causes include car accidents and trauma. You are also at a higher risk of sustaining a cartilage tear if you are under the age of 30 and dislocate your shoulder. 

Tests and Diagnosis of Shoulder Instability

To diagnose shoulder instability, your doctor will discuss your medical history and conduct an evaluation of your symptoms. He/she will then examine your shoulder, testing for joint mobility and looking for signs of weakness, range of motion and pain. He/she may also order X-rays or an MRI to confirm a cartilage tear. An MRI may be combined with an injection of a contrast medium, enabling your doctor to better see any tears or ligament damage. 

Treatment of Shoulder Instability

Rest (sometimes with your arm in a temporary sling) and physical therapy are usually the initial recommendations to reduce the inflammation and heal a cartilage tear.

Instability that does not improve with non-operative treatment may be addressed with open arthroscopy surgery to heal the torn labrum. Whenever appropriate, Loyola’s orthopaedic surgeons heal cartilage tears with arthroscopy, a minimally invasive surgical technique that involves less pain, a faster recovery and a shorter hospital stay.