How to Fix a Dislocated Shoulder

Steps you can take to pop a shoulder back into place in an emergency

A dislocated shoulder—when the ball of the shoulder joint is no longer nested in the socket—must be returned to its proper position. While best done by a medical professional, you can learn how to fix a dislocated shoulder on your own should you find yourself isolated or otherwise unable to access care.

The process of "popping" a dislocated shoulder back into place is called reducing the shoulder. This must be done with great care to avoid damaging tissues, nerves, and blood vessels in and around the shoulder joint.

This article explains the symptoms of this injury and how to attempt to fix a dislocated shoulder on your own in an emergency.

Determining If You Have a Dislocated Shoulder

It's difficult to be confident that you have a dislocated shoulder. The dislocation can be partial (subluxation) or complete (luxation). As such, signs of this injury may be overt or subtle.

Common symptoms of a shoulder dislocation include:

  • Severe shoulder pain
  • Swelling and bruising of your shoulder or upper arm
  • Numbness and/or weakness in your arm, neck, hand, or fingers
  • Trouble moving your arm
  • Your arm looks to be out of place
  • Muscle spasms in your shoulder

If you think you may have a dislocated shoulder, you should seek medical attention as soon as possible. However, if no medical help is available, you can proceed with trying to reduce the shoulder—albeit with extreme caution.

A dislocated shoulder may lead to potentially serious complications if not treated promptly. These include:

How to Pop a Shoulder Back Into Place

Fixing a dislocated shoulder on your own poses some challenges, including having to perform the procedure on yourself while you are injured and not having the benefit of medications used by healthcare providers to make the procedure a bit easier.

Following these steps for how to fix a dislocated shoulder exactly can help you have the best outcome. (You can also use them as you help someone correct their shoulder dislocation.)

How to reduce a dislocated shoulder
Illustration by Cindy Chung, Verywell

1) Lie Down and Relax

Reducing a joint is near-impossible if the muscles around the shoulder are tense and seized. Healthcare providers commonly use anti-inflammatory injections or muscle relaxants before a reduction to help with this.

Since those options are not available to you, the first and most crucial step in fixing a dislocated shoulder is relaxing as much as possible before the reduction.

Lie on your back in a comfortable position for several minutes, taking long, deep inhalations and exhalations rather than breathing rapidly. (If you're helping someone who is injured, it often helps to coach them to follow your breathing patterns until they settle down.)

Do not proceed if there is any screaming, panic, or chaos. Instead, create a calm environment, removing anyone causing undue stress, anxiety, or agitation.

2) Reach Over Your Head

To begin, slowly extend the injured arm out to the side, raising the arm gently and bending the elbow so that the palm touches the top of the head.

A helper can support the arm, although this is not necessary. Movements should be slow; pain is a sign to slow things down.

Gently rotate the hand behind the head.

3) Move Your Hand Toward Your Neck

Gradually move the hand down toward the nape of the neck (as if trying to scratch your neck).

4) Reach For Your Opposite Shoulder

Next, move the hand toward the opposite shoulder. As you do this, the shoulder should pop back into place. If it does, you should feel immediate relief. Again, do not push, pull, or tug the arm.

If the joint doesn't pop back instantly, take several moments to relax, breathe in slowly and deeply, and try again. When fully relaxed, the chances of a successful reduction are good.

If reduction efforts do not work, do not panic or force the joint into place. There could be other problems, such as a fracture or ruptured connective tissues, interfering with the reduction.

5) Carefully Position Your Arm and Get Medical Attention

When the shoulder is back in position, keep the upper arm to the side of the body. Then, fold the forearm across the abdomen in a 90-degree position.

If it is comfortable, place a towel or cloth under the injured forearm to create a sling, tying the ends over the opposite shoulder (one end to the front and one end to the back).

Seek medical assistance immediately.

Who Needs to Know How to Fix a Dislocated Shoulder?

If you have read this far, you have likely already found yourself with a potentially dislocated shoulder.

While knowing how to fix a shoulder dislocation is not knowledge that everyone really needs to know in advance, it is particularly helpful for those who engage in activities in remote areas of wilderness where help could be days away.

This might include:

  • Hikers
  • Kayakers
  • Rock climbers
  • Outdoor athletes

So you are prepared should this happen again, consider printing this article out and stowing it with your gear. Or pass it along to someone in your life who might find themselves needing these instructions one day.


You should not use shoulder self-reduction to avoid medical care or self-treat recurrent dislocations. These situations would instead benefit from a proper evaluation and appropriate treatment interventions.


A shoulder reduction is a medical procedure that you should only attempt on your own when medical care is unavailable (for example, on a hike in a remote area). Relax, reach your arm over your head, touch your hand to the bottom of your neck, reach for the opposite shoulder, and the shoulder should pop back into place.

After you reduce your shoulder, seek follow-up medical attention as soon as you can.

A Word From Verywell

If self-reducing a dislocated shoulder is necessary, the keywords to remember are "slow" and "relaxed." Pain is a sign that you are either moving too quickly, the muscles are too tense, or there may be other injuries that you are unaware of.

It is far better to take as much time as reasonably needed before performing a reduction. Unless there is extreme pain, it often helps for the injured party to lie in a comfortable position, chat, and allow any panic to subside. A slow respiration rate is usually the sign that you are ready to proceed.

After the shoulder is reduced, seek medical help even if everything seems 100% OK. There may be other problems that need tending to that only a doctor can diagnose. A dislocated shoulder may also require pain control and shoulder rehabilitation efforts.

5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. National Health Service UK. Dislocated shoulder.

  2. Abrams R, Akbarnia H. Shoulder dislocations overview. In: StatPearls.

  3. MedlinePlus. Dislocated shoulder.

  4. Alkaduhimi H, van der Linde JA, Flipsen M, van Deurzen DF, van den Bekerom MP. A systematic and technical guide on how to reduce a shoulder dislocationTurk J Emerg Med. 2016;16(4):155–168. doi:10.1016/j.tjem.2016.09.008

  5. Youm T, Takemoto R, Park BK. Acute management of shoulder dislocations. J Am Acad Orthop Surg. 2014;22(12):761-71. doi:10.5435/JAAOS-22-12-761

By Jonathan Cluett, MD
Jonathan Cluett, MD, is board-certified in orthopedic surgery. He served as assistant team physician to Chivas USA (Major League Soccer) and the United States men's and women's national soccer teams.