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.
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A dislocation is caused by strong often sudden force to the joint. Common causes are:
- Falling on an outstretched hand
- A direct blow to the elbow, such as from a motor vehicle accident
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:
- Pain with movement
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:
- Without surgery—medicine will decrease pain while the doctor puts the bones back into place.
- With surgery—the skin will be cut so that the doctor can repair the area. The bones are put back into place and ligaments may also need repair. Devices may be used to support the bones while they heal.
Other treatment may include:
- Medicines to ease pain and swelling
- Resting the joint while it heals, home care like ice and heat packs
- A splint or sling to keep the elbow in place as it heals
- Physical therapy may be needed to help with severe dislocation recovery
This injury is due to an accident. These are hard to prevent.
Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians
Ortho Info— 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