Shoulder instability in the competitive or leisure athlete

Agnesian Bone & Joint Health

By: Billie Jo Braatz, PT, DPT, LAT, Agnesian HealthCare Sports & Spine Center

Has your daughter ever said it feels like her shoulder "slips out" when hitting a volleyball, or has your son told you his shoulder "popped out" when making a tackle during a football game? If so, they may be experiencing what is commonly known as shoulder instability.

Shoulder instability in competitive and leisure sports can occur over time from repetitive stress to the shoulder or from a single traumatic event. This type of injury may occur when there is a subluxation or dislocation of the shoulder joint.

Symptoms consistent with shoulder instability:

  • Pain in the shoulder after injury
  • Repeated shoulder dislocations
  • Chronic sensation of the shoulder slipping in and out of the joint

Many times the first line of treatment is with a conservative approach. If your child has experienced any of the symptoms above, have them see their school’s athletic trainer to be evaluated and begin an exercise program to strengthen their shoulder if appropriate. If you are a leisure athlete with symptoms above, consult an orthopedic surgeon for evaluation. Many times a referral to physical therapy will follow. In more traumatic cases, further imaging and/or surgery may be warranted.


Ways to prevent further instability:

  • Focus on strengthening the small rotator cuff muscles around the shoulder joint and scapular muscles of the posterior shoulder
  • Avoid excessive strain on the shoulder with lifting including bench press and bar squats
  • Include dynamic stability exercises
  • Include core strengthening exercises

As a physical therapist and athletic trainer, I see this issue quite regularly in not only volleyball and football players but many competitive and leisure athletes involved in overhead or contact sports.  Generally a conservative approach works well and gets the athlete back playing their sport in a few weeks. If surgery is necessary, the rehab process is a bit longer but ultimately results in a successful outcome.


For more information, consult a healthcare provider at Agnesian HealthCare or visit

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About The Author

Agnesian Bone & Joint Health Rehab Gym Fond du Lac

Agnesian Bone & Joint Health

Patients receive individualized assessment and treatment within Agnesian Bone & Joint Health’s continuum of care, from diagnosis to rehabilitation. The team features board-certified orthopedic surgeons, podiatric medicine and surgery (foot and ankle), physical therapists, athletic trainers and physical therapy assistants. The rehabilitation staff at Agnesian HealthCare’s Sports & Spine Center specializes in one-on-one treatment in state-of-the-art facilities.

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