Dislocated Elbow: Symptoms, Treatment & Recovery Time

Can you dislocate your elbow?

Yes, absolutely.

There are many ways in which the elbow can be damaged. A dislocated elbow is one of the most frequently occurring injuries, with posterior elbow dislocations accounting for over 90 percent of all hospital visits regarding the elbow.

Essentially, when an elbow is dislocated, one of the three key bones that comprise the elbow joint is forced from its usual position. In some cases, two or more of these bones may become disjointed at once.

When these bones are struck hard enough to be knocked out of joint, it can also harm the ligaments, tendons, and nerves that surround the elbow joint— resulting in extreme discomfort and making medical treatment imperative for proper restoration.

Thankfully, elbow dislocation is one of the most desirable arm-related injuries in terms of the healing process.

In today’s article, we’ll be taking a closer look at the symptoms, causes and treatment options for a dislocated elbow, since early detection and immediate medical attention is essential for optimum recovery.

What are the Most Common Dislocated Elbow Symptoms?

The symptoms of elbow dislocation vary depending on the severity of the injury. An elbow dislocation will fall into one of the following three categories:

Simple Elbow Dislocation

This type of injury is denoted by the separation of the radius and the ulna from the humerus, without the presence of any fractures. Since simple dislocations only involve damage to soft tissues, rather than bone breaks or nerve damage, they are the easiest to treat and recover from.

Complex Elbow Dislocation

A dislocation is considered complex when acute damage has been done to the bones or ligaments within the elbow. Injuries that are deemed complex can present in a range of ways, from a single bone fracture to multiple breaks accompanied by severe soft tissue damage. Approximately 25 percent of elbow dislocations are complex and thus require more extensive treatment solutions.

Severe Elbow Dislocation

When the blood vessels or nerves within the elbow become damaged or trapped between the dislocated bones, the injury is classified as severe. This is most concerning since it can result in reduced blood flow to the elbow, resulting in permanent damage, and in extreme cases, amputation may be necessary. Fortunately, only a small percentage of elbow injuries are this serious.

Depending on the severity of your injury, you may experience some or all of the elbow dislocation symptoms listed below:

  • Loss of ability to move the elbow
  • Swelling
  • Numbness or tingling in the hand/arm
  • Pain and/or discomfort
  • Visible disfigurement of the joint (Arm bent at an unusual angle)

What are the Causes of Elbow Dislocation?

There are many ways an elbow can become dislocated.

Below are some of the most common activities and occurrences that contribute to this type of injury:

  • Slipping or falling (Especially when the hand is outstretched in an effort to brace oneself)
  • Participation in sports where impact to the elbow is more likely (Skiing, ice skating, skateboarding, etc.)
  • Motor vehicle accidents

Additional risk factors for elbow dislocation include:

  • Age (Seniors and youth are at an increased risk)
  • A history of a previously dislocated elbow
  • Playing sports professionally (Especially those that involve contact)
  • The presence of a joint disorder (Including Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, arthritis, Still’s Disease, etc.)

How is an Elbow Dislocation Diagnosed?

Diagnosing a dislocated elbow is relatively straightforward. In many cases, the elbow is visibly disfigured.

To confirm your injuries, however, your physician will perform a physical examination. This will allow your doctor to note any numbness or discoloration of the arm, which can indicate that blood flow is being restricted. It will also give them a better idea of how severe the injury is.

Lastly, your physician will schedule an X-ray, as this is the only way to definitively identify any fractures or ligament tears.

What is the Recommended Elbow Dislocation Treatment?

When it comes to how to fix a dislocated elbow, there are a few different techniques that physicians use.

The method employed to treat your injury will likely depend on the severity of the damage that has occurred.

Typically, treatments fall into one of the two classifications below:

Surgical Treatment

When serious damage has occurred, it is more likely that your injury will require elbow surgery in order to restore a full range of motion and to make it possible for you to return to your regular activities.

Surgical treatments for elbow dislocations are performed under general anesthesia and typically take 45-90 minutes to complete.

It’s important to note that while the bone may heal in as little as 1-2 months, it will take longer to restore your elbow to its usual range of motion.

Many patients require physical therapy for as long as 6-12 months after their procedure.

This is absolutely essential, however, if you want to be able to use your elbow without pain or discomfort, and it greatly reduces the likelihood of your injury reoccurring.

Non-Surgical Treatment

Non-surgical treatment typically begins with an elbow reduction.

An elbow dislocation reduction is a technique used by healthcare professionals to return the elbow to its natural position. There are a few different ways a reduction can be performed, with the most common being the Parvin’s method.

Parvin’s method begins by having the patient lay back in a supine position with their affected arm hanging over the side of the bed. A doctor then gently pulls downward on the wrist until the olecranon returns to its proper position. When it does, the arm is then lifted upwards, resulting in a reattached joint.

After an elbow reduction has been successfully completed, the arm will be immobilized and wrapped in a sling or splint for up to three weeks.

Physical therapy will also be required to restore mobility and stability.

Why Choose Dr. Schwartz

Dr. Daniel Schwartz specializes in shoulder and elbow injury treatment and makes it his personal mission to offer personal care, directly from him, from your first visit to your last. As a physician who is passionate and enthusiastic about his work, Dr. Schwartz genuinely enjoys learning about his patient’s condition and determining the best course of action that will yield ideal results.

If you would like more information or are interested in booking an appointment for a first consultation, please call and we will be delighted to assist you or click here to fill out our online contact form.

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