Glenohumeral instability

Last revised by Dr Henry Knipe on 14 Oct 2020

Glenohumeral instability is the tendency of the glenohumeral joint to sublux or dislocate due to loss of its normal functional or anatomical stabilizers.

Glenohumeral instability can be divided into:

  • static
    • lack of alignment at rest position, which can be depicted using diagnostic imaging studies
    • causes include chronic rotator cuff tear and severe osteoarthritis (OA)
  • dynamic: lack of alignment during movement or weight-bearing; its etiology can be
    • traumatic (TUBS, Traumatic Unilateral dislocations with a Bankart lesion requiring Surgery): most commonly due to episode(s) of anterior joint dislocation and typically associated injuries
    • atraumatic (AMBRI, atraumatic, multidirectional, bilateral, rehabilitation, and occasionally requiring an inferior capsular shift): associated with increased capsular laxity, glenohumeral hypermobility and spontaneous dislocation

Glenohumeral instability can also be categorized according to the pattern of instability:

As a result of this greater mobility, a number of secondary changes may become evident, including:

These changes, in turn, may lead to shoulder impingement.

Typical bone injuries may be visible, especially in case of anterior instability, but often the radiographs look normal.

CT is superior in visualizing bony injuries of the humeral head and glenoid rim in case of traumatic instability. In atraumatic instability, the findings are often non-specific.

MRI and arthrographic studies are very accurate in showing chondral and labral injuries (such as Bankart lesion, ALPSA, GLAD and HAGL, as well as their counterparts in posterior instability). Visualization of the Perthes lesion may be improved by the use of the ABER position. In multidirectional instability, a circumferential labral tear is often present.

In general, both anterior and posterior instability requires surgical repair and strengthening of the capsule.

Multi-directional instability is usually treated conservatively with rotator cuff strengthening exercises 2.

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Cases and figures

  • Case 1 : anterior shoulder dislocation
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  • Case 2 : reverse Hill-Sachs and reverse Bankart
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  • Case 3 : bilateral shoulder instability
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  • Case 4: ALPSA, SLAP 2 tear, and GAGL lesions
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