Dislocated Elbow

1 What is Dislocated Elbow?

A dislocated elbow occurs when the bones of the elbow are forced out of their normal position. This mostly occurs when a person lands on an outstretched arm during a fall. The elbow is the second most dislocated joint in adults and first commonly dislocated joint in children.

Toddlers may develop nursemaid's elbow, a dislocated elbow that occurs when they are lifted or swug by their forearms. Immediate medical attention is required for a dislocated elbow.

Complications that can occur as a result of dislocation of the elbow include pinches or trapps of blood vessels and nerves that supply the lower arm and hand. Surgery is only required in cases where elbow dislocation is accompanied by fracture of the bones of the elbow.

2 Symptoms

The signs and symptoms of a dislocated elbow include: intense pain, obvious distortion of the joint and inability to move the joint. Children tent to hold the dislocated elbow in a flexed position next to the body and avoid using the affected arm.

Partial dislocations can cause bruising and pain where the ligaments were stretched or torn.

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3 Causes

Common causes of elbow dislocations include falling on an outstretched arm and trauma during motor vehicle accidents. Dislocated elbow in toddlers can also be caused by improper lifting and sudden pulling of the child.

4 Making a Diagnosis

Making a diagnosis of dislocated elbow is done by performing several tests.

A physical exam in which doctors inspect the elbow to look for swelling or deformity and coldness or numbness in the arm and hand. An X-ray can help doctors to look for broken bones or damage to other structures around the elbow.

5 Treatment

Treatments for dislocated elbow include:

  • Placing the bones of the elbow back into place. Patients may be given a muscle relaxant, sedative or general anesthesia depending on the intensity of pain and swelling.
  • Surgery in cases where a patient has a fracture, torn ligaments or tendons or when there is damage of vessels or nerves near the elbow joint.
  • Pain killers of muscle relaxants to help the patient deal with pain or muscle spasms.
  • Wearing a splint or sling for a few weeks to immobilize the elbow.
  • Rehabilitation after the shoulder has healed to restore movement, strength and stability of the elbow.

6 Prevention

Avoiding lifting or swinging small children can help prevent the development of dislocated elbow.

7 Risks and Complications

There are several risks and complications associated with dislocated elbow.

Risk factors of having a dislocated shoulder include:

  • Children because their elbows are more flexible
  • Having a family history of weak ligaments
  • Participating in certain sport activities,such as:
    • Gymnastics
    • or Weight baring exercises

Complications of a dislocated elbow include:

  • Fracture of the bones of the elbow
  • Pinche or trapped nerves and blood vessels between the dislocated bones or within the joint when the bones realign. This can lead to numbness and permanent damage of the tissues of the lower arm and hand.
  • Avulsion fractures, a fracture in which a stretched ligament pulls off a tiny bit of bone from its attachment point. This occurs mostly in children.
  • An increased risk of developing osteoarthritis.
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