Separated shoulders need to be treated right away. Your doctor will need to move the arm bone back into the shoulder socket. Since the joint will get more swollen and more painful by the minute, the sooner the better. Once the arm bone is back in the socket, some of the pain will go away.

After the shoulder bone is repositioned, you can use conservative treatment to reduce pain and swelling. The same treatment would also be used for a separated shoulder.

To treat either injury, you should:

  • Ice your shoulder to reduce pain and swelling. Do it for 20-30 minutes every three to four hours, for 2 to 3 days or longer.
  • Use a sling or shoulder immobilizer to prevent further injury until you get medical treatment. Then follow the doctor’s advice about whether or not to use a sling.
  • Take anti-inflammatory painkillers. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or naproxen (Aleve), will help with pain and swelling. However, these drugs may have side effects, like an increased risk of bleeding and ulcers or heart attacks and strokes. They should not be used for extended periods of time unless your doctor specifically says otherwise.
  • Practice stretching and strengthening exercises if your doctor recommends them.

Most of the time, these treatments will do the trick. But in rare cases, you may need surgery.

Surgery for severely separated shoulders is sometimes needed to repair the torn ligament. Afterward, you will probably need to keep your arm in a sling for about six weeks.