Elbow Dislocation

What is an elbow dislocation?

An elbow dislocation means that the bones in your elbow have moved out of place so that the joint no longer works properly. A dislocation can put pressure on the nerves and blood vessels in your elbow and damage them. When your elbow is dislocated, you may also break 1 or more bones in your elbow.

An elbow dislocation is a serious injury that takes at least 4 to 6 weeks to heal.

What is the cause?

A dislocated elbow is usually caused by using your arm to break a fall, or by a direct hit to your elbow. It may also be caused by weak or loose ligaments that you were born with. Ligaments are strong bands of tissue that connect one bone to another.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms may include:

  • Swelling
  • Pain
  • Bruising
  • A change in the shape of the elbow that makes it look crooked or out of place
  • Trouble moving your elbow or not being able to move it at all
  • Numbness in your forearm or hand

How is it diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms and medical history and examine you. You will have X-rays.

How is it treated?

A dislocated elbow needs treatment right away to prevent permanent damage to the nerves and blood vessels.

Your healthcare provider will put the bones back in the right position. You may need to have a local or general anesthetic to keep you from feeling pain when this is done. A splint or cast will be put on to hold the bones in the correct position for 1 week or longer. This prevents your joint from moving while it heals. When the splint is removed, your healthcare provider may recommend stretching and strengthening exercises to help you heal.

More severe injuries may need surgery.

How can I take care of myself?

Follow the full course of treatment prescribed by your healthcare provider. In addition:

  • Keep your elbow up on pillows when you sit or lie down.
  • Put an ice pack, gel pack, or package of frozen vegetables wrapped in a cloth on the injured area every 3 to 4 hours for up to 20 minutes at a time.
  • Take nonprescription pain medicine, such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or naproxen. Read the label and take as directed. Unless recommended by your healthcare provider, you should not take these medicines for more than 10 days.
    • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, naproxen, and aspirin, may cause stomach bleeding and other problems. These risks increase with age.
    • Acetaminophen may cause liver damage or other problems. Unless recommended by your provider, don’t take more than 3000 milligrams (mg) in 24 hours. To make sure you don’t take too much, check other medicines you take to see if they also contain acetaminophen. Ask your provider if you need to avoid drinking alcohol while taking this medicine.
  • Do the exercises recommended by your healthcare provider.

Ask your provider:

  • How long it will take to recover
  • If there are activities you should avoid and when you can return to your normal activities
  • How to take care of yourself at home
  • What symptoms or problems you should watch for and what to do if you have them

Make sure you know when you should come back for a checkup. Keep all appointments for provider visits or tests.

Developed by RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-10-21
Last reviewed: 2014-09-25
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.

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