Dislocated elbow

A dislocated elbow is considered as a common form of dislocation among adults. It is important to note that the elbow is a durable joint which requires significant force to damage it.

Elbow dislocation occurs from a fall or a direct strike and often includes an accompanying fracture to the humerus, radius or ulna. Remember that the usual mechanism involves falling onto an extended hand with the arm away from the body while the elbow is forcefully extended upon contact. In addition, there is twisting movement involved which results to posterior dislocation.

Once the elbow is dislocated posteriorly, it can either be partial or complete. During a partly dislocated elbow, the joint surfaces are separated by a small gap and typically reduce either right away or with minimal help. A full dislocation occurs if the joint surfaces are separated significantly and require manual reduction.

What are the indications?

Dislocated elbow
Remember that the usual mechanism involves falling onto an extended hand with the arm away from the body while the elbow is forcefully extended upon contact.
  • Intense elbow pain
  • Swelling
  • Evident deformity
  • Bruising on the interior and outside part of the elbow

Management

Once an individual is suspected with a dislocated elbow, a doctor should be consulted right away. An initial first aid measure is to apply an ice pack over the affected elbow and put on a sling for support. Remember that you should not attempt to restore the joint back since this can lead to further damage.

Medical care

The doctor will examine the arm for deformity, swelling and movement. The lower arm and hand is checked for color and warmth. If the hand is bluish-tinged, cold or white, it indicates damage to the nerve or blood vessel.

An X-ray or MRI might be requested by the doctor, usually before or after reduction. If the dislocated elbow is complete, reduction is done to restore the elbow into its proper position. This involves the manipulation of the elbow in a position that drives the bones to their natural location. After the procedure, the elbow should be rested under a sling between 1-3 weeks depending on the severity of damage. A rehabilitation program should follow to improve the range of movement of the elbow joint.

More Information / Disclaimer

The information posted on this page on a dislocated elbow is for learning purposes only. Learn to recognize and manage joint injuries by taking a standard first aid course with Mississauga First Aid.

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