Elbow Dislocation

What is elbow dislocation?

Elbow dislocation occurs when the elbow experiences a large trauma, such as in a fall or motor vehicle accident, which dislodges the bones from their normal position. There are three bones in the elbow — the upper arm bone (humerus) and two lower arm forearm bones (radius and ulna). A dislocation typically involves a shift of the forearm bones together away from the humerus. As this occurs, fractures of the bones can also take place. Prompt medical attention is needed for suspected elbow dislocation because it is important to restore normal joint alignment as soon as possible.

What are the symptoms of a dislocated elbow?

Symptoms of a dislocated elbow will be evident immediately and can include:

  • Pain in the elbow, commonly severe
  • A visible deformity
  • Bruising and swelling in the elbow
  • An inability to move the elbow
  • Tingling in the forearm or hand (if a nerve is pinched)

What causes elbow dislocation?

A dislocated elbow is most often caused by a violent fall on an outstretched arm. The weight and force of the fall pushes the bones within the elbow out of place, often causing other complications as well. It can happen to anyone, especially athletes and those prone to falling. The elbow is the most commonly dislocated joint in children and the second most common in adults, only secondary to the shoulder. Immediate medical attention is required following this injury.

How is elbow dislocation diagnosed?

Elbow dislocation is diagnosed by a thorough examination of the arm. An X-ray is needed to check for bone fractures and an MRI or CT scan may be needed to look for damage to the surrounding tissues. Elbows contain important nerves, arteries and ligaments that are critical to arm and hand function so it is important to ensure all damage is assessed.

What is the treatment for elbow dislocation?

Non-surgical Treatment Options

  • Elbow reduction (put bones back into proper place), often requires pulling or bending the limb after adequate pain medication is provided
  • An elbow splint is subsequently most commonly applied
  • Physical or occupational therapy is often used to recover mobility and function

A specialist, such as the expert physicians at MOR Hand, Wrist & Elbow Institute, should treat elbow dislocation. The bones should be carefully relocated to proper position without causing further damage to tissues. Depending on the extent of the damage, splints or surgery may be required. MOR physicians will discuss these options to ensure the best treatment possible. They have particular expertise with these problems and have published guidelines to help other doctors provide proper care of patients with these injuries.