What’s the difference between a separated shoulder and a dislocated shoulder?

Though both dislocations and separations cause shoulder pain, they have distinct characteristics.


Shoulder dislocations are the most common injuries that we see in the orthopedic department. When a dislocated shoulder occurs, the top of arm (the humerus) slips out of the shoulder socket. In severe cases, the tendons may tear. If you have dislocated your shoulder:

  • You will feel pain that is sometimes severe.
  • You will experience swelling.
  • You will notice your shoulder no longer looks rounded on the top.
  • Your arm may turn outward, and you may not be able to move it close to your body.

If a dislocation occurs, you need to seek medical attention to reset your shoulder. Typically, the pain stops as soon as the shoulder is back in its normal position.

Shoulder separations usually occur as the result of a fall. During impact, the ligaments that connect the shoulder to the collarbone stretch. The severity of the stretching determines the need for treatment. A mild strain may need to be immobilized with a sling. A complete tear will need surgical repair.

If you have a separated shoulder:

  • You will feel shoulder pain.
  • You will experience significant swelling and bruising over the injured area.
  • Your arm may feel weak.
  • You will notice a loss of movement in your shoulder.

If you suspect a separated shoulder, you should make an appointment with an orthopedic specialist.

After diagnosis and treatment of either a dislocation or a separation, your healthcare clinician may recommend that you keep your shoulder immobilized with a sling for a few weeks to allow your shoulder to heal.

If you have experienced shoulder pain that has lasted longer than two weeks, contact Affinity Orthopedics and Sports Medicine Center at (920) 996-3700. The expert orthopedic staff can help you find relief.

Acension Orthopedics and Sports Medicine Center

Madison Center at Ascension St. Elizabeth Hospital
1531 S. Madison St.
4th floor
Appleton, WI 54915
(920) 996-3700

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1506 S. Oneida St
Appleton, WI 54915
(920) 738-2000

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