What is a dislocated elbow?
A dislocated elbow occurs when any of the three bones in the elbow joint become separated or knocked out of their normal positions.
Dislocation can be very painful, causing the elbow to become unstable and sometimes unable to move. Dislocation damages the ligaments of the elbow and can also damage the surrounding muscles, nerves and tendons (tissues that connect the bones at a joint).
You should seek immediate medical treatment if you think you have an elbow dislocation. Treatment reduces the risk of irreversible damage.
How common is a dislocated elbow?
The incidence of the injury has been estimated at 2.9 events per 100,000 people over the age of 16. In children, dislocations can happen when someone yanks on the child’s arm.
What causes a dislocated elbow?
There can be various causes of a dislocated elbow.
- Most elbow dislocations occur when people try to stop a fall with their outstretched hand.
- Car accidents can cause dislocated elbows when people reach out to brace themselves against impact.
- Sports injuries can cause dislocations.
- Overuse can also be a cause.
- In some cases, a joint disorder such as Ehlers-Danlos syndrome causes dislocations. Ehlers-Danlos makes joints unusually loose and flexible.
What are the signs and symptoms of a dislocated elbow?
A dislocated elbow can be partial or complete. A complete elbow dislocation involves a total separation and is called a luxation. When the elbow joint is partially dislocated, it is called a subluxation.
Doctors also classify elbow dislocations according to the extent of the damage and where it occurs. The 3 types include:
- Simple: No major injury to the bone
- Complex: Severe injuries to the bone and ligament
- Severe: Damage to the nerves and blood vessels around the elbow
The signs and symptoms of a dislocated elbow vary depending on the severity of the injury and the bones involved. They include:
- Deformed-looking arm (bone looks out of place)
- Weakness in the joint
- Loss of ability to move the elbow