There’s a unique relationship of bones around the shoulder complex. Now and again, those bones decide to split up. When that drama ensues, it’s important to know if it was a Dislocation or just a Separation. These events reside in the jurisdiction of ‘Sprain’.
Two of my favorite joints, Glenohumeral and Acromioclavicular, lie close to one’s heart.
Sometimes the Glenohumeral just pops right out, and that is what we call a shoulder dislocation. When this happens, the humerus (arm bone) exits the glenoid (socket). For the imaginary learners out there, pretend the glenoid is a gulf tee and the head of the humerus is a golf ball. When we dislocate, the ball falls off the tee. When dislocations occur, an immediate return of the bones are needed. This is when a player, trainer, doctor, etc. will need to ‘pop their shoulder back in’.
These injuries can vary. They commonly require a surgical repair to be required to the ligaments, labrum, and/or bones. Fortunately, many players can return in 0-3 weeks and delay surgical repairs for the off-season if indicated. These players you’ll typically see playing in a harness.
Separated shoulders are very common in the NFL. This occurs at the AC joint when the clavicle and the acromion (shoulder blade) spread out from each other. If you’ve ever seen someone with a Shoulder Separation, they will have that big bump between the shoulder and the ear.
This type of injury usually requires 1-2 weeks recovery, but many mild cases can return instantly. Important to note, rarely is a surgical repair required. Players will routinely wear a brace that provides a protective barrier over the AC joint.
Are you wondering how to process this knowledge? Shoulder dislocations are usually more severe and tend to require surgery at some point. Shoulder separations are usually less severe and require surgery less frequently. However, return to play for both is routinely 0-3 weeks for common cases. The caveat is you do not want this happening to your QB’s throwing shoulder. Due to the mechanism of throwing, dislocations might require surgery more imminently. As for the separations, assuming non-operative, you would assume delays in the ballpark of 3-6 weeks at least.