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Dislocation or separation of elbow

Dislocation or separation of Elbow

Dislocation of Elbow occurs when the humerus, ulna and radius (the elbow bones) move out of place where they meet at the elbow joint. This usually occurs when an individual breaks a fall with an outstretched hand while the arm is held straight.

A dislocated elbow happens when any of the three bones in your elbow joint are knocked or pushed out of place. Dislocating your elbow can be very painful and make it hard (or impossible) to move your elbow.

A joint is any place in your body where two bones meet. They’re part of your skeletal system. You have hundreds of joints throughout your body. They support your body from head to toe. Your elbow joint is where three bones in your arm come together:

  • The humerus (your upper arm bone).
  • The ulna (the longer bone in your forearm).
  • The radius (the shorter bone in your forearm).

A dislocated elbow can also strain or tear the tissues around your joint, including your:

  • Muscles.
  • Nerves.
  • Tendons.
  • Ligaments.
  • Blood vessels.

Types of dislocated elbows

Orthopedic Specialists classify dislocations based on how far the bones in your joints were moved:

  • Complete dislocations (luxation): A complete dislocation happens when the bones in your joint are totally separated and pushed out of place.
  • Subluxation: This is the medical term for a partial dislocation. You have a subluxation if something pulls your joint apart and the bones still touch, just not as completely as usual.

Providers also classify elbow dislocations based on the damage to your joint and the surrounding tissue:

  • Simple elbow dislocation: Injury to the ligaments that support your elbow, but no injury to the bones that form your elbow joint.
  • Complex elbow dislocation: Severe injuries to your ligaments and tendons, and broken bones (fractures).
  • Severe elbow dislocation: Damage to the nerves and blood vessels around your elbow.


  • Bruising.
  • Your elbow looking noticeably different or out of place.
  • Pain.
  • Swelling.
  • Being unable to move or use your elbow.
  • A feeling of instability or like your elbow is weaker than usual.

Causes of Dislocation of Elbow

Any force that’s strong enough to push your elbow joint out of place can cause a dislocation. The most common causes include:

  • Falls — especially catching yourself or bracing for an impact with your arms stretched out in front of you.
  • Car accidents.
  • Sports injuries.

Grabbing or lifting a child by the arm can dislocate their elbow. This type of partial dislocation is sometimes called nursemaid elbow.

Diagnosis of Dislocation of Elbow

Orthopedic Specialist at Shreya Hospital will diagnose a dislocated elbow with a physical exam. They’ll look at your elbow and the rest of your arm. Tell your provider about any symptoms you’re experiencing and what you were doing right before you injured your elbow.

They might need to do some of the following imaging tests to diagnose damage inside your body after a dislocation:

  • X-ray.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
  • Computed tomography (CT) scan.
  • Ultrasound.

Treatment of Dislocation of Elbow

The most important treatment for a dislocated elbow is putting your joint back in its correct place. Your Doctor might call this manipulation or a closed reduction. Go to Shreya Hospital right away if you think your elbow might be dislocated.

Don’t try to push your joint back in place by yourself. Don’t let anyone who’s not a trained, professional healthcare provider move or touch your injured elbow. Try to hold your elbow as still as possible and don’t force yourself to use it.

If you try to force a dislocated elbow back in place on your own, you can make your injury worse and damage the tissue around it.

After your Doctor puts your joint back in place, you might need other treatments, including:

  • Immobilization: Wearing a splint or sling will hold your elbow in place while it heals.
  • Medication: Your provider will tell you which medication you can take to reduce pain and inflammation. Don’t take over-the-counter pain relievers for more than 10 days in a row without talking to your provider.
  • Rest: You’ll need to avoid any physical activity that uses or puts stress on your elbow. Ask your provider which activities to avoid while you’re recovering.

Dislocated elbow surgery

Most people don’t need surgery after dislocating their elbow. You may need surgery if:

  • The injury that dislocated your elbow caused other damage inside your body.
  • A closed reduction doesn’t work or isn’t possible. In this case, you’ll need surgery to reset your elbow joint.
  • You experience a severe or complex dislocation.