Elbow dislocation occurs when the bones that make up the elbow joint – humerus, radius and ulna – are forced out of alignment.
In adults, the elbow is the second most commonly dislocated joint (after shoulder dislocation). It typically occurs when a person falls onto an outstretched arm or from a direct blow, such as during a car accident. The majority of elbow dislocations in teens and young adults are the result of a sports activity, such as bicycling, skateboarding, rollerblading or gymnastics.
Elbow dislocations can be partial (also known as a subluxation) or complete, and frequently involve other injuries, most commonly ligaments or soft tissue tears, fractures of the radius or ulna, or damage to nearby nerves or blood vessels.
When an elbow is dislocated, you may experience pain, swelling, and an inability to straighten the elbow or bend the arm. If arteries and nerves were injured, the hand may be numb, and there may be no pulse in the wrist. If fully dislocated, the joint will look out of place, and you may experience severe pain until it is relocated. If a bone was fractured, a nerve may be cut or damaged, causing temporary or permanent paralysis.
An elbow dislocation is a serious injury and warrants immediate medical attention. An upper extremity subspecialist at Lancaster Orthopedic Group will examine the arm, check the pulse at the wrist, and evaluate the circulation to the arm. An X-ray can determine if a bone was fractured.
Your physician will perform a reduction to return the elbow back to its correct natural position. The procedure is painful, so you may be given pain medication beforehand. After the reduction, you may have to wear a splint and/or sling to immobilize the elbow until it heals. Gentle exercises often follow to help improve the range of motion and strength in the elbow.