Elbow dislocation is a common joint dislocation, second to the shoulder. It occurs when the bones of the forearm (also known as the radius and the ulna) move out of place compared with the bone of the upper arm (also known as the humerus).

An elbow dislocation can either be simple or complex. It is classified as a simple dislocation when there is no major bone injury. It is a complex dislocation when it involves severe bone and ligament injuries.

What causes elbow dislocation?

There are several things that can lead to elbow dislocation. The most common cause is a fall, with the arm all the way out. Traumatic injuries such as those sustained during a vehicular accident can also lead to elbow dislocation.

Signs and Symptoms of Elbow Dislocation

Severe pain in the elbow, swelling, and inability to bend the arm are the most common signs and symptoms of a dislocated elbow. In some cases, it can also lead to loss of pulse and sensation in the arms.

When arteries or nerves are damaged, there can be an abnormal sensation or lost of normal hand function below the dislocated elbow.

When To See A Doctor

When you had an injury and suspect that you have dislocated your elbow, then you must see your doctor immediately.

The doctor will perform a thorough physical exam to confirm the diagnosis. Part of the physical examination is checking your pulse and hand mobility. On top of this, the doctor may order an X-ray to see possible breaks in the bone. If the doctor suspects that the injury had caused damage to the artery, he/she may recommend further tests such as arteriogram, a form of X-ray for your artery.

Managing Elbow Dislocation

Nonsurgical Treatment

The normal alignment of the elbow is usually restored through a procedure called closed reduction. In this process, the doctor puts the elbow back into its place by pulling down on the wrist. It’s a painful procedure and thus, requires pain medication or sedatives before it is done.

After closed reduction, the elbow is placed in a splint and sling to keep the arm at the elbow from moving. It is placed at a 90-degree angle for 2 to 3 weeks. Physical therapy is usually recommended to help you gain back your elbow’s full range of motion.

X-rays may be taken periodically during the recovery period to ensure that the bones of the elbow joint are well aligned.

Surgical Treatment

Closed reduction is only done for simple stable elbow dislocation. For complex elbow dislocation, surgery may be needed to restore the bone alignment.

Open reduction internal fixation (ORIF) is a type of medical procedure that can be done for complex elbow dislocation. Performed under general anesthesia, ORIF involves an incision at the site of injury. The bones are carefully re-aligned before internal fixation devices such as rods, pins, screws, or plates are placed to hold them together.

This surgical treatment can take hours, depending on the severity of the dislocation. Physical therapy is usually recommended to help you move during your recovery.