Beach volleyball player Kerri Walsh Jennings is competing in her fifth Olympic Games this year. Adding to this amazing feat are the number of injuries and surgeries this Olympian has overcome in her career, including two shoulder dislocations in 2015. A shoulder dislocation is an example of shoulder instability, which is when the top of the upper arm bone comes out of the shoulder’s socket.

When shoulder muscles, tendons, and ligaments no longer secure the shoulder joint, the top of the upper arm bone can be forced out of the shoulder socket (dislocated). See Shoulder Dislocation Injury (Dislocated Shoulder)

Walsh Jennings, a California native, has claimed gold medals from three Olympic Games (2004, 2008, and 2012), and expects to do great things in this year’s Games. Despite several injury-related setbacks, she has persevered and come back strong—as demonstrated by her performance with teammate April Ross thus far in Rio de Janeiro.

See Treating Acute Sports and Exercise Injuries in the First 24 to 72 Hours

What is shoulder instability?

This is a condition when your shoulder muscles, tendons, and ligaments no longer secure your shoulder joint. As a result, the top of your upper arm bone (humeral head) can move around in the shoulder socket and possibly dislocate. This means the top of your upper arm bone is forced out of your shoulder socket.

See Dislocated Shoulder Symptoms


What will cause my shoulder to dislocate?

Shoulder dislocations are common in athletes—especially among those participating in repetitive, overhead sports, including baseball and volleyball. There are three common reasons that your shoulder can dislocate:

  • Repeated, overhead movement. You can dislocate your shoulder if you’re an athlete participating in an overhead sport, like Walsh Jennings, or have a career involving repetitive, overhead movements. The repetition causes the muscles in the shoulder joint to weaken over time, and the connective tissue around the shoulder joint to expand.
  • Trauma in daily life or contact sports. High-impact activities can cause your shoulder to dislocate, too. For example, an epileptic seizure or electrocution may cause this injury, as can contact sports like football or skiing.
  • It’s in your genes. You may have been born with loose joints (laxity) throughout the body, which is also referred to as being double-jointed. Because of this, you may be able to willingly dislocate your shoulder.

See Causes and Risk Factors for a Dislocated Shoulder

After you've had one shoulder dislocation, you're apt to have another. In fact, that is what happened to Walsh Jennings: she dislocated her right shoulder in May 2015, then again in July 2015.

See Treatment for a Dislocated Shoulder

Dislocating your shoulder can be painful, but it is an injury you can bounce back from, as Walsh Jennings has done with good results. Indeed, surgery is typically successful in most people.

See Surgery for Dislocated Shoulder

Learn More:

Diagnosing a Dislocated Shoulder

Rotator Cuff Injuries

Amy Haddad is a former Veritas Health editor. She developed content and wrote blogs about sports injuries, risk factors, and treatment options.