Understanding Chronic Shoulder Instability: Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment Options

Miss Charlotte Barker
MSK Associate
Published at: 27/12/2023

Understanding Chronic Shoulder Instability: Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment Options

Understanding the Condition

Chronic shoulder instability is a condition that can cause significant discomfort and limitation in your daily activities. It occurs when the shoulder joint is too loose and can move or slide around too much in the socket. This instability often results from an injury, overuse, or in some cases, as a result of congenital factors.

Symptoms and Diagnosis

Patients with chronic shoulder instability may experience a range of symptoms, including:

  • Pain and discomfort, particularly when lifting or moving the arm.
  • A feeling of the shoulder giving way or being loose.
  • Repeated shoulder dislocations.
  • Swelling or bruising around the joint.

Diagnosis typically involves a thorough physical examination, patient history, and imaging tests such as MRI or X-rays. These investigations help in assessing the extent of instability and any associated injuries to the shoulder structures.

Treatment Options

Non-Surgical Methods

  1. Physiotherapy: Strengthening the muscles around the shoulder can improve stability. Specific exercises can increase muscle tone and reduce the risk of dislocation.

  2. Lifestyle Adjustments: Avoiding activities that exacerbate the condition is crucial. Modifying daily activities can help manage symptoms.

  3. Medication: Pain relief and anti-inflammatory drugs can be used to manage pain and swelling.

Surgical Interventions

Surgery may be recommended in cases where non-surgical treatments have not provided relief or if there are significant injuries to the shoulder structures. Surgical options include:

  • Arthroscopic Surgery: Minimally invasive surgery to repair or tighten the ligaments around the shoulder.

  • Open Surgery: Used in more severe cases to repair the damaged shoulder joint.

Coping and Recovery

Post-Treatment Care

  • Rehabilitation: Following surgery, a rehabilitation program is critical. It involves physical therapy to regain strength and mobility.

  • Regular Check-ups: Regular follow-ups with your orthopaedic surgeon are essential to monitor recovery and prevent recurrence.

Lifestyle and Prevention

  • Activity Modification: Even after recovery, being mindful of shoulder activities is crucial to prevent re-injury.

  • Continued Exercises: Continuing with a modified exercise routine to keep the shoulder muscles strong.


Chronic shoulder instability can be a challenging condition, but with the correct diagnosis, treatment plan, and lifestyle adjustments, patients can manage their symptoms effectively. It's essential to consult with healthcare professionals who specialise in shoulder conditions to ensure the best possible outcome.