Discomfort and weakness in your shoulder is something most people notice immediately. Athletes, as well as ordinary people can suffer from shoulder instability. It is a treatable condition, however, pinpointing the exact issue or the treatment that will be needed can be more difficult.

Shoulder instability typically comes in two different forms – traumatic and atraumatic. Traumatic shoulder instability is related to a sudden injury while atraumatic shoulder instability is developed over time. Below is an overview of the differences between traumatic and atraumatic shoulder injuries, as well as the causes and treatments of each.


  • Traumatic shoulder instability is initiated by a dislocation that causes injury to the support ligaments. The most common examples of this include a fall on an outstretched arm, a direct blow to the shoulder, or a forced rotation of the arm.
  • The basis of instability in traumatic cases lies in the labrum of the shoulder. The labrum is where ligaments that stabilize the shoulder are attached. Therefore, when the labrum is torn or damaged, all of the support for your shoulder disappears, which causes reoccuring dislocations.
  • The severity and the amount of the damage to your labrum plays a big factor in the development of instability and future shoulder issues.
  • Often, the first injury causes repeated dislocations. Getting the problem fixed is the only way to stop the reoccurring injuries.


  • Atraumatic shoulder instability begin with looseness in your joint, which over time will cause more instability. The looseness may be a natural condition or a problem that has developed more recently.
  • Participants in gymnastics, swimming, throwing and other overhead sports are often stricken with atraumatic shoulder instability.
  • Again, the labrum is the source of the problem. In this case, the ligaments that are attached at the labrum and stabilize the shoulder become stretched out, sometimes leading to dislocation.
  • Those suffering from atraumatic shoulder instability often experience looseness in other joints, like knees or elbows. This looseness can be fixed by surgery or overtime by physical therapy.

The primary difference between traumatic and atraumatic shoulder instability is the way in which the labrum is affected. In traumatic cases the labrum is damaged or torn, while in atraumatic cases extreme looseness is experienced. Both conditions can be cured or fixed through rigid physical therapy or surgery. Distinguishing the difference between the two will help you and your orthopedicist decide on a treatment for your problem.