What is Elbow Dislocation?

The arm in the human body is made up of three bones that join to form a hinge joint called the elbow. The upper arm bone or humerus connects from the shoulder to the elbow to form the top of the hinge joint. The lower arm or forearm consists of two bones, the radius, and the ulna. These bones connect the wrist to the elbow forming the bottom portion of the hinge joint.

The bones are held together by ligaments that help to provide stability to the joint. Muscles and tendons move the bones around each other and help in performing various activities. Elbow dislocation occurs when the bones that make up the joint are forced out of alignment.

Causes of Elbow Dislocation

Elbow dislocations usually occur when you fall onto an outstretched hand. It can also occur from a more significant traumatic injury such as a motor vehicle accident, fall from a bicycle, or from contact types of sport.

Symptoms of Elbow Dislocation

When the elbow is dislocated, you may experience severe pain, swelling and lack the ability to bend your arm. Sometimes, you cannot feel your hand or may have no pulse in your wrist because arteries and nerves that run along your elbow may be injured.

Diagnosis of Elbow Dislocation

To diagnose elbow dislocation, your doctor will examine your arm. Your doctor will check the pulses at the wrist and evaluate the circulation to the arm. An X-ray is necessary to determine if there is a break in the bone. An arteriogram, an X-ray of your artery, can be helpful to determine if the artery is injured.

Treatment Options for Elbow Dislocation

An elbow dislocation is a serious injury and requires immediate medical attention. The primary aim is to reduce the elbow back into joint as quickly and as safely as possible.

After the reduction, you may have to wear a splint to immobilize your arm at the elbow. After a few days, you may also need to perform gentle motion exercises to improve the range of motion and strength. X-rays will be taken to ensure there are no associated fractures around the elbow.

With a simple dislocation (when there are no fractures) conservative treatment is indicated. After a short period of immobilization exercises are begun to try and restore range of motion. Surgery may be required if fractures have occurred at the time of the elbow dislocation. This is to restore the bony and ligamentous stability to the elbow before any range of motion exercises can begin.

Other Elbow Conditions