Chronic Shoulder Instability in Children

Chronic shoulder instability is a problem that occurs when the various structures that surround the shoulder joint fail to keep the ball properly inside the socket. Instability of the shoulder joint can range from a minor annoyance to an extremely painful condition that necessitates immediate medical attention. In children, the most common cause of shoulder instability is participation in sports activities. Injury to the shoulder is common in young athletes due to the immaturity of their bones and joints coupled with the inherent stress that playing sports can have on their bodies.

Chronic shoulder instability – also called multidirectional instability – is more likely to afflict children who:

  • Engage in sports that entail repetitive overhead movements such as swimming, volleyball, or gymnastics
  • Participate in ball sports but do not use proper throwing techniques
  • Are “double jointed” (i.e., have joints that stretch more than normal)
  • Have a family history of shoulder instability
  • Have previously experienced a complete shoulder dislocation

The symptoms of this condition typically hinge on the severity of the shoulder trauma. A child with shoulder instability can experience any of the following:

  • Dull shoulder pain
  • Shoulder pain when liftings objects overhead
  • Limited range of shoulder motion
  • Muscle weakness in the affected arm
  • Swelling
  • Bruising


Just like shoulder instability in adults, shoulder instability in children is primarily diagnosed through a physical examination. An MRI or X-ray may also be required. Treatment for mild cases of chronic shoulder instability most often includes anti-inflammatory medication, temporary cessation of sports activities, and physical therapy. If conservative treatment is not successful, surgery might be necessary. Surgical treatments are frequently performed arthroscopically to minimize post-surgery pain and shorten recovery periods.

Muma Children's Hospital at TGH physicians treat chronic shoulder instability in children and other pediatric orthopaedic conditions. Our qualified staff excels at addressing the physical, psychological, social, and developmental needs of each and every pediatric patient under our care.

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