Dislocated elbow is loss of alignment of the bones in elbow joint. It occurs when the connective tissue, muscles and cartilage that holds and keeps the bones aligned to each other are damaged or torn. The elbow joint is made up of bones of forearm (radius and ulna) and upper arm bone (humerus).
Elbow dislocation occurs mainly due to an injury or a fall where the hand is overstretched. Elbow joint dislocation can occur in children as well as adults. Elbow joint dislocation needs immediate medical attention as there is risk of damage to the nerves, blood vessels passing through the joint.
Usually dislocated elbow is treated conservatively where the bones are realigned with closed reduction. Surgical intervention may be required if there is associated fracture of the bones in the elbow joint.
What Causes Dislocation Of Elbow?
The main cause of elbow dislocation is traumatic injury. When the ligaments of elbow joint experience extreme force which they are not able to withstand, they may get damaged or torn. They become weak and as a result the bones in elbow capsule can make a way from normal alignment.
- Elbow dislocation can occur in adults as well as children. In adults the common cause is fall from a height often with overstretched hand. Sometimes a person may fall even while walking. Elbow dislocation is also common in vehicle accidents where there is direct impact on the elbow joint.
- An injury due to direct impact as in contact sports can lead to dislocation of bones in the elbow. It is because of the intense force experienced on the joint capsule.
- Lifting the child in improper way or sudden pulling of child’s hand can cause dislocation of elbow. The tissues and ligaments are not as strong as adults and mild stretching of hands can cause dislocation.
- There is hereditary tendency of tissue and ligament weakness in some people. They are more prone to different types of joint dislocation including elbow dislocation.
Symptoms Of Dislocated Elbow
Severe pain in the elbow is first symptom of elbow joint dislocation after an injury. The pain is sudden in onset after an injury. Because of intense pain patient is unable to move his forearm. Pain is localized in elbow but sometimes it may radiate to fingers and in forearm.
- Few minutes after the dislocation there is obvious noticeable distortion and swelling of the joint. As the bones are misaligned from its normal position within the joint, the shape of elbow becomes abnormal as compared with the other side.
- Due to swelling and pain patient is unable to bend his arm.
- Pain is aggravated on slight pressure on the elbow joint.
- Sometimes patient may experience tingling and numbness in the fingers and hand. This may occur if the nerve passing through the joint is compressed or injured due to dislocation.
- The hand and forearm feels weak. Patient is unable to do any movement with his hand.
Treatment Of Dislocation Of Elbow Joint
Elbow dislocation needs to be treated. Sometimes the dislocated bones may get aligned themselves without any treatment. However, a deformity may remain in such cases.
Elbow dislocation is often treated conservatively with closed reduction. In this procedure the doctor manipulates bones and fixes them in proper alignment. The procedure usually requires anesthesia. After the procedure, patient may need a sling for few weeks or a month.
Analgesics and anti inflammatory medicines may be necessary. In some cases physiotherapy exercises will be recommended to improve muscle and bone strength.
Normally elbow dislocation heals well after few months with proper treatment and physiotherapy. The prognosis is good in almost all cases.