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Dislocated Elbow

Dislocated Elbow

An elbow dislocation occurs when the bones of the elbow are pushed or pulled out of their normal positions. You are most likely to dislocate your elbow when you fall on your outstretched, extended arm.

Symptoms of a dislocated elbow may include:

  • A bone poking through the skin or visible in a wound.
  • A decreased pulse or no pulse at the wrist.
  • Cool, pale skin or numbness or tingling in or below the affected elbow (if nerves or blood vessels were injured or pinched by the dislocation).
  • Swelling and bruising that appears within 30 minutes of the injury.
  • Severe pain that increases with any movement.
  • A misshapen joint (the bone looks out of its normal position). The dislocated elbow will look very different than the opposite elbow.
  • Inability to bend or straighten the arm (locked elbow). This may occur because of pain or because the bones are locked and can't move.
  • A feeling that something popped or feels out of place.
  • A feeling of looseness or instability at the elbow.
  • A grating sound or feeling with movement of or pressure on the injured arm.

A dislocation can be a problem even if the bone pops back into its normal position.

  • Soft tissues in or around a joint (such as ligaments, tendons, muscles, cartilage, and the joint capsule) may stretch or tear or become trapped within the joint.
  • Nerves and blood vessels often are very close to the bone and can be damaged easily when a bone dislocates.
  • Sometimes when a bone dislocates, a piece of bone at the base of the dislocated joint may break off and end up inside the joint or cause a fracture that extends into the joint.

Immediate medical treatment may include:

  • Putting the bone back in place (if it hasn't already popped back into its normal position).
  • Having surgery to repair torn blood vessels, ligaments, or nerves.

After the elbow is back in its normal position, further medical treatment may include:

  • Using ice initially and then heat.
  • Taking medicines to decrease pain and inflammation.
  • Immobilizing the elbow with an elbow brace.
  • Doing physical therapy, such as stretching and strengthening exercises.
  • Having surgery to prevent repeated dislocations.
By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer H. Michael O'Connor, MD - Emergency Medicine
Last Revised February 16, 2011

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