A dislocated elbow is when one or more bones in the elbow move out of alignment with the other bones. It is the second most common joint dislocation behind the shoulder. Toddlers can get a dislocated elbow, called a nursemaid’s elbow, from being lifted or swung by their forearms. Often, we can put a dislocated elbow back into position without surgery. However, surgery may be needed if the bones don’t realign correctly or if any of the bones are broken.
A dislocated elbow often results from a fall, mainly when someone throws out their hands to break that fall. Extreme pain and noticeable distortion of the joint are the primary symptoms. If an elbow is only partially dislocated, you may experience bruising and pain.
If you suspect you have a dislocated or partially dislocated elbow, contact Princeton Orthopaedic Associates right away. Complications can arise if a dislocated elbow isn’t treated right away, including nerve and blood vessel damage, osteoarthritis, or fracture.
A doctor will examine the joint and test the hand for coldness or numbness, indicating the possibility of blood vessel or nerve damage. An x-ray will be performed to ensure there are no fractures.
Some dislocations work themselves back into the correct position, but most will require a “reduction,” where the doctor maneuvers the bones back into place. You likely will be given pain medication or local anesthesia before this is done.
Once the bones are put back into place, you may have to wear a sling for a few weeks while the tendons and ligaments heal. Otherwise, the bones could dislocate again.
After such an injury, you will need physical therapy afterward to return the range of motion to the joint, which tends to stiffen.
For those with fractures, torn ligaments or tendons, or blood vessel or nerve damage, surgery may be necessary to make the proper repairs and ensure the bones are in place correctly. You will wear a splint or sling afterward, and you will need physical therapy.