We undertook a prospective study in 51 male patients aged between 17 and 27 years to ascertain whether immobilisation after primary traumatic anterior dislocation of the shoulder in external rotation was more effective than immobilisation in internal rotation in preventing recurrent dislocation in a physically active population. Of the 51 patients, 24 were randomised to be treated by a traditional brace in internal rotation and 27 were immobilised in external rotation of 15 degrees to 20 degrees. After immobilisation, the patients undertook a standard regime of physiotherapy and were then assessed clinically for evidence of instability. When reviewed at a mean of 33.4 months (24 to 48) ten from the external rotation group (37%) and ten from the internal rotation group (41.7%) had sustained a further dislocation. There was no statistically significant difference (p = 0.74) between the groups. Our findings show that external rotation bracing may not be as effective as previously reported in preventing recurrent anterior dislocation of the shoulder.