Your car accident didn't break any bones, but left you with a painful dislocated shoulder. The orthopaedic specialists in the emergency room were able to put your shoulder joint back into place without doing surgery. Now you'll begin several weeks of recovery. To get full recovery of your shoulder will take several steps. Here is what to expect during those weeks after the accident.

Initial Tissue Healing

The force required to dislocate your shoulder stretched the ligaments that hold the bones together in the shoulder joint. You may have small tears in these ligaments. Ligaments have little blood flow in them, so they take longer to heal than other tissues, such as muscles. You went home from the emergency center with a special sling on your arm, which holds your shoulder snug against your body. This is to keep your shoulder in a neutral position while the damaged tissues heal.

Your arm will need to be in this sling all of the time, except when bathing. Your doctor will show you some exercises you can do with your elbow, wrist and hand to keep them limber while the shoulder is immobilized. Otherwise, you won't be able to use your arm for normal daily activities to give the ligaments a chance to heal. This will take several weeks. Once the doctor is satisfied with the progress of tissues healing, they will have you begin physical therapy.

Physical Therapy for Range of Motion

The first few weeks of physical therapy is to regain the normal movement in your shoulder. The physical therapist will begin by doing passive range of motion. They will move your arm and shoulder for you through its normal range of movement. They will move your shoulder slowly and only to the point of resistance to stretch out the tense muscles but not put stress on the ligaments that are still healing. You'll be shown how you can do these exercises yourself, using your other arm to support the injured arm.

After several days of passive range of motion therapy, you'll begin active exercises, in which you move your arm and shoulder by itself. The physical therapist will measure your range of motion at each session. When you have achieved nearly normal range of motion, you'll begin the next phase of recovery.

Physical Therapy for Muscle Strength

You'll now begin working to build up the strength of the muscles in your shoulder. These muscles not only help you move the shoulder, but they protect it from injury. The therapist will have you use resistance machines and weights to increase muscle strength. You'll set a slow and gentle exercise pace with the therapist so you don't put stress on the shoulder. You could re-injure the ligaments in the shoulder if your overwork them during these exercises.

Your orthopaedic doctor will have you strengthen the muscles for several weeks. You'll begin to use your arm and shoulder now in daily activities. If you are active in sports involving your arm and shoulder, you'll continue the strength training for a few more weeks to build up those muscles to meet the demands of those activities.