Return to Sports After Shoulder Dislocation

Shoulder dislocation can be a devastating event for athletes and active individuals. When these injuries occur during sports the first question for the athlete is often “When can I return?” The management of shoulder dislocations has evolved over the years. In past years, multiple dislocations were tolerated. The athlete who dislocated his or her shoulder was treated with a short period of immobilization and allowed to keep playing. However, this approach was detrimental in the end.

A recent study by Dickens et al. (see article) examined return to sport after arthroscopic shoulder stabilization (Bankart repair) compared to non-operative treatment. 39 collegiate athletes were followed, 10 of which elected for non-operative treatment (sling and strengthening) and 29 of which elected for arthroscopic repair. Return to play the following season was only 40% in the therapy group versus 90% in the arthroscopic repair group.

This study provides further support for the surgical repair of shoulder instability. Non-operative treatment leads to recurrent instability in 39% to 94% of patients overall and in 87% of patients under 20 years old. Fortunately, arthroscopic techniques have significantly decreased the invasiveness of surgical treatment for shoulder instability.. With arthroscopy, 3 to 4 stab incisions each only 1 cm in length can be used to anatomically repair the labrum and improve the likelihood of return to high demand activity.