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Houston Rockets forward Luc Mbah a Moute was forced to leave Tuesday’s game against the Los Angeles Lakers after jamming his shoulder when his dunk was blocked by Thomas Bryant. He underwent an MRI on the morning of April 11, which confirmed he had a dislocated right shoulder.
The shoulder is a ball-and-socket joint. Shoulder instability (or shoulder dislocation) occurs when the humerus (or ball part of the shoulder) is forced out of the socket (glenoid). The most common direction is anterior. This is often the result of trauma but can occur because of repetitive overuse in sports such as baseball or swimming. Some of my readers may be surprised to hear that shoulder dislocations are not uncommon in basketball.
For the shoulder to dislocate, typically one of three things (or a combination of the three) has to occur: the rotator cuff tendon can tear, a piece of the socket can break off, and/or the labrum can tear. Labral tearing is the most common cause of instability in the shoulder. The labrum is a soft tissue structure that goes around the socket like a bumper goes around a pool table.
When the shoulder dislocates, patients feel sharp pain, have difficulty raising the arm and see obvious signs of improper shoulder positioning. The shoulder needs to be reduced (or put back in place) as soon as possible. In many cases, the athlete or team trainer can do this; other times, the pain is too severe, and one must go to the hospital to have it reduced.
Once reduced, the pain from the injury typically dissipates relatively quickly. After the pain subsides and an athlete regains their full range of motion and strength, they can return to play. Mbah a Moute is all too familiar with this scenario as he missed 15 games earlier this season following a shoulder dislocation.
Unfortunately, this most recent instability episode highlights one of the issues with shoulder dislocations: Each time the shoulder dislocates, the more easily it will dislocate again in the future. Given that Mbah a Moute has had two dislocations in the last four months, it is almost a foregone conclusion that he will need surgery in the offseason.
Surgery is usually done arthroscopically through small poke holes in the skin. A camera is utilized to view inside the joint, and the labrum is sutured back to the socket using anchors in the bone.
The issue, more immediately, is whether Mbah a Moute will be back for the playoffs. The problem for basketball players is that the at-risk position for shoulder instability is with one’s arm over their head, which is where so much of the game is played.
Mbah a Moute being out for the first round of the playoffs is a big loss for the Rockets: He often guards the opposing team’s best wing player. The last time he dislocated his shoulder, in mid-December, he missed almost a month; if the recovery timeline is similar in this case, he may not be back until the second or third round, if the Rockets make it that far.