An elbow dislocation is when the bones of the elbow are pulled out of place. There may also be damage to bones, ligaments, and muscles.
The Elbow Joint
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A dislocation is caused by strong often sudden force to the joint. Common causes are:
A dislocation is often caused by an accident. The risks may be higher with some sports, such as:
A dislocation will cause severe elbow pain. The joint will also look abnormal. Other changes may include:
The doctor will ask about your symptoms, past health, and how injury happened. A physical exam will be done. The doctor can often make the diagnosis based on appearance and how the injury happened. An x-ray can show if there is bone damage and where the bones have moved.
The bones will be moved back into place right away. It can take up to 6 weeks for the soft tissue to recover. Movement may be uncomfortable or weak during recovery. There are two methods to put bones back in place:
Other treatment may include:
This injury is due to an accident. These are hard to prevent.
Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians
American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
Canadian Association of General Surgeons
Canadian Orthopaedic Foundation
American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM). Elbow disorders. J Occup Environ Med. 2013 Nov;55(11):1365-1374.
Elbow dislocation. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/elbow-dislocation. Accessed February 18, 2021.
Elbow dislocation. Ortho Info—American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons website. Available at: https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/diseases--conditions/elbow-dislocation. Accessed February 18, 2021.
Rezaie N, Gupta S, Service BC, Osbahr DC. Elbow dislocation. Clin Sports Med. 2020;39(3):637-655.
Last reviewed January 2021 by EBSCO Medical Review Board
Laura Lei-Rivera, PT, DPT
Last Updated: 2/18/2021