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In the News

Shoulder Instability: Bony Bankart Lesions

October 4, 2016

Shoulder instability can be a frustrating and painful issue to deal with for athletes of all kinds. Often, younger athletes, especially males from age 18-25, or those participating in high-risk activities, are the most susceptible to shoulder subluxations or dislocations. Most commonly, athletes report to us that they fell forcefully on an outstretched hand and this caused their shoulder to dislocate.

Dr. Richard Cunningham treats most patients who have suffered a shoulder dislocation for the first time nonsurgically. We prescribe physical therapy and recommend a sling for comfort. However, in young active patients, it is not uncommon to have further episodes of shoulder instability in which the shoulder dislocates or subluxates (meaning the ball comes partially out of the socket) again and again. Anterior shoulder dislocations, in which the ball, or humeral head, comes out the front of the shoulder is the most common direction of shoulder dislocations, comprising over 85 percent of all dislocations.

When a shoulder dislocates, the labrum usually tears away from the socket. The labrum is a fibrocartilage ring attached to the edge of the entire socket that helps keep the ball in the socket. In some cases, there is not tearing of the labrum but rather a fracture of the edge of the socket or a so-called bony bankart lesion. Dr. Cunningham likens the shoulder to a golf ball sitting on a golf tee. In a bony bankart fracture, there is a resultant chip fracture of the edge of the golf tee or socket which makes the shoulder joint very unstable.

X-rays and a physical exam are the first steps for evaluating shoulder instability. Often, a bony bankart fracture can be seen on an x-ray alone. However, we typically order an MRI and CT so that associated bone and soft tissue injuries can be better visualized.  This also helps with pre-surgical planning.

After diagnosing a bony bankart fracture, Dr. Cunningham usually recommends early surgical intervention as these fractures do not heal in the proper place without surgery. Moreover, patients who have these fractures are very unstable, and are often even unable to take their shirt off for example. The main goal of a bony bankart repair is to reattach the fracture fragments and labrum back to the edge of the socket and this is done using small suture anchors and suture. Dr. Cunningham is able to actually fix these fracture fragments back to the socket arthroscopically, whereas most surgeons make a big incision to fix these. Dr. Cunningham makes three small incisions and with small intruments and a telescope like camera in the shoulder, the surgery can be performed. Doing it arthroscopically leads to less disruption of normal muscles and tendons around the shoulder, there is less pain, and the recovery is faster. With good physical therapy, most patients do very well and do not have further episodes of shoulder instability in the future.

Following an arthroscopic repair, patients are able to go home the same day. Patients are confined to a sling for 4 weeks but easy range of motion exercises are started right away.  Most patients are back to pain-free daily activities, normal strength, and most sports within 4 months. Throwing athletes may need 6 months until they are cleared to resume their sport.

Unfortunately, shoulder instability is quite common. Dr. Cunningham has noticed that bony bankart fractures of the shoulder are more frequent as sports become more extreme. Fortunately, these injuries can be repaired arthroscopically, the shoulder can be effectively stabilized, and athletes can once again resume their active lifestyle.

Authors: Gretchen Meador, PA-C, Dr. Richard Cunningham, M.D. 


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