Dislocated elbow — Comprehensive overview covers symptoms, causes, treatments of this common elbow injury.
A dislocated elbow occurs when the bones that make up the joint are forced out of alignment — typically when you land on an outstretched hand during a fall. The elbow is the second most commonly dislocated joint after the shoulder in adults, and the most commonly dislocated joint in children.
Toddlers may experience a dislocated elbow, sometimes known as nursemaid's elbow, if they are lifted or swung by their forearms.
If you or your child has a dislocated elbow, seek immediate medical attention. Complications can occur if the dislocated elbow pinches or traps the blood vessels and the nerves that serve the lower arm and hand.
A dislocated elbow can usually be realigned without surgery. However, if your elbow is also fractured, you might need surgery.
Signs and symptoms of a dislocated elbow include:
Toddlers with nursemaid's elbow might experience pain only when the affected elbow is moved. A child often avoids using the arm and holds it slightly flexed next to the body.
Sometimes, the elbow is only partially dislocated. Partial dislocation can cause bruising and pain where the ligaments were stretched or torn.
Seek immediate medical attention if you or your child has extreme pain or obvious distortion of the elbow joint.
In adults, the most common causes of a dislocated elbow include:
In children or teenagers, falling onto an outstretched hand is also a common cause of a dislocated elbow.
In toddlers, the injury often occurs when an extra pulling motion is applied to an outstretched arm. The causes of such injuries include:
Complications of a dislocated elbow can include:
Avoid lifting or swinging small children by their arms.
Your doctor will carefully examine the injured joint and check if the arm or hand is cold or numb — which would indicate a pinched artery or nerve. You probably will need an X-ray to check for fracture in the bones that make up the elbow joint.
Some dislocated elbows go back into place by themselves. Most, however, need a doctor to manipulate the bones back into their proper alignment. This procedure is called a reduction.
Before the reduction you or your child may be given medications to relieve pain and relax muscles.
After the joint's bones are back in their normal alignment, you or your child might need to wear a splint or sling for a few weeks. You might also need to do physical therapy exercises to improve the joint's range of motion and strength.
You might need surgery if:
You'll probably seek medical attention in a hospital's emergency department or at an urgent care center. You may be referred to an orthopedic surgeon.
Your doctor is likely to ask how the injury occurred and if the joint has ever been dislocated before.
December 22nd, 2020