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Joint Dislocation

Joint Dislocation

What Is Joint Dislocation?

A dislocation is a type of trauma sustained to a joint. It is characterized by a forced separation of bone segments within the joint. This can result in damage to ligaments, cartilage and tendons, as well as possible instability after the dislocation has occurred.

While dislocation occurs most frequently in the shoulders and fingers, it is also seen in other areas, including the elbows, knees and hips. Because this injury is painful and temporarily deforms and immobilizes your joint, it’s important to seek medical attention right away if you suspect a dislocation. A trained professional will help return your bones to their proper positions.

With proper treatment, most dislocated joints will return to normal function after several weeks of rest and rehabilitation. However, some joints, such as your shoulder, may have an increased risk of repeat dislocation after an initial injury.

Signs and Symptoms of Joint Dislocation

A person with a dislocated joint will typically experience one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Intense pain
  • Swelling or discoloration around the joint
  • Joint impossible or very difficult to move
  • Numbness or tingling at the joint
  • Joint is visibly out-of-place

When To See A Doctor For A Dislocated Joint

While it can be difficult to tell whether a bone is broken or dislocated, when to go to the doctor is a simple answer in either case: right away. Whenever possible, try to ice the joint and avoid moving it while you're waiting to be seen by a doctor.

What Causes Joint Dislocation?

Dislocations happen most commonly in sports such as football and hockey but they also occur in other kinds of sports that involve a lot of contact. For example, downhill skiing, gymnastics and volleyball. Basketball players dislocate their joints quite frequently as well by accident because they accidentally hit the ball or are hit by another player during a game. Other common causes include car accidents or landing on an outstretched arm during a fall. 

Top Joint Dislocation Risk factors

While a dislocated joint can happen to anyone, some people may be especially prone to such an injury:

  • Susceptibility to falling. Dislocated joints commonly occur when people try to brace themselves for a fall but land forcefully on a body part (such as your hip or shoulder).
  • Genetics. Some people are simply born with ligaments that are looser than average. This makes them more prone to injury than other people might be in a similar circumstance.
  • Sports. People who participate in high-impact or contact sports like basketball, wrestling, gymnastics, and football are more likely to experience a joint dislocation in their lifetime.
  • Car accidents. Dislocated hips occur most often due to motor vehicle accidents, especially for people not wearing a seat belt.

Possible Complications from Joint Dislocation

It’s important to seek medical treatment right away to reduce the risk of complications from a dislocated joint. Possible complications include:

  • Torn muscles, ligaments or tendons that reinforce the injured joint
  • Damage to nerve or blood vessels in or around the affected joint
  • Increased susceptibility to reinjury in severe or repeated dislocation injuries
  • Increased likelihood for arthritis in the affected joint as you age

Surgery may be required to repair an injury in severe cases, such as when there is stretching or tearing of tendons or muscles that support an injured joint or in cases where there damage to nerves or blood vessels surrounding the joint.

How to Prevent a Dislocated Joint

The best way to prevent dislocated joints is to take precautions to avoid falls and accidents for you or your loved ones. Be sure to get your eyes checked regularly as you age. When you start a new prescription, ask your doctor or pharmacist if there’s a chance it may make you dizzy. Ensure adequate lighting throughout your home and remove potential tripping hazards from walkways. If you play sports, play safely! Wear all the recommended protective gear when you play contact sports in particular. And finally, if you’ve ever dislocated a joint previously, take extra care because you might be more susceptible to future dislocations. Your doctor or physical therapist can recommend strength and stability exercises to improve joint support going forward.

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