Diagnosis of Posterior and Combined-Type Shoulder Instability: A 10-Year Cross-sectional Study From a Single Military Base

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date



Orthopaedic journal of sports medicine








arthroscopy; military training; posterior instability; shoulder instability; shoulder surgery


BACKGROUND: Large variations exist in the reported frequency and etiology of posterior and combined shoulder instability in the active-duty military population. PURPOSE: To compare imaging and clinical examination findings as well as reoperation rates between active-duty military patients who underwent surgery for anterior, posterior, and combined-type shoulder instability. STUDY DESIGN: Cross-sectional study; Level of evidence, 3. METHODS: A retrospective review was conducted on patients treated surgically for shoulder instability from a single military base from January 2010 to December 2019. Each case was characterized as isolated anterior, isolated posterior, or combined, according to arthroscopic findings. Information was collected on patient characteristics, history of trauma, time to surgery, associated pathological findings, and survivorship at a minimum 2-year follow-up. RESULTS: Overall, 416 patients (n = 394 men; n = 22 women), with a mean age of 29.1 years, underwent primary shoulder stabilization surgery during the study period. There were 158 patients (38%) with isolated anterior instability, 139 (33%) with isolated posterior instability, and 119 (29%) with combined instability. A history of trauma was more prevalent with isolated anterior instability (129 [81.7%]) than with either isolated posterior (95 [68.4%]) or combined instability (73 [61.3%]) ( = .047 and = .001, respectively). Patients with anterior instability were significantly more likely to be diagnosed on the preoperative physical examination when compared with patients with posterior instability (93% vs 79.1%; < .001) or combined instability (93% vs 75.6%; < .001) and were also more likely to have a discrete labral tear detected on a preoperative magnetic resonance arthrogram than patients with posterior instability (82.9% vs 63.3%; < .001). There was no significant difference in the rate of medical discharge or recurrent instability requiring reoperation between groups. CONCLUSION: The study findings indicated that young, active-duty military patients are at increased risk for isolated posterior and combined-type shoulder instability, with posterior and combined instability collectively accounting for over 60% of instability cases in this cohort. Orthopaedic surgeons should be aware of instability when evaluating and treating young, active-duty military patients with shoulder pain, even in the absence of diagnostic physical examinations or imaging findings.


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