Fact Checked

What is a Dislocated Elbow?

D. Jeffress
D. Jeffress

A dislocated elbow is a painful injury that occurs when the upper or lower arm bones become dislodged from the elbow joint. Most people suffer dislocations because of a fall or severe blow to the arm and elbow. Symptoms include pain, swelling, inflammation, and the inability to move or bend the arm at the elbow joint. It is common for individuals to lose feeling in their hand and lower arm, as nerves can become damaged when the joint dislocates. A person with a dislocated elbow should visit an emergency room or primary care physician immediately, who can check for signs of fractures and nerve damage, realign joints, and prescribe follow-up pain management medications and techniques.

Dislocated elbow joints are common in contact sports, accidents involving motor vehicles, and severe falls. A blow to the arm or elbow or a sudden, awkward twisting motion can cause the radius and ulna to separate from the joint where they meet the humerus. The result is local inflammation, swelling, and severe pain. People cannot move their arms after a dislocation because of the displaced bones, cartilage, and nerves. It is possible to fracture arm bones, pinch or sever nerves, or damage arteries concurrently with a dislocation, so immediate medical attention is necessary after a severe injury.

A sling may be required to treat a dislocated elbow.
A sling may be required to treat a dislocated elbow.

When a person visits an emergency room or doctor's office, a physician will generally ask about the injury, conduct a physical examination, and take x-rays to check for bone and tendon damage. He or she usually checks a person's pulse rate and confirms that he or she has not experienced numbness to ensure that artery and nerves have not been damaged. If there are no existing injuries aside from the dislocated elbow, the doctor can physically force the arm bones back into their joints, place the arm in a supportive sling, prescribe anti-inflammatory and pain medications, and recommend home rehabilitative strategies.

A dislocated elbow may be the result of a bad fall.
A dislocated elbow may be the result of a bad fall.

An individual who is recovering at home from a dislocated elbow can shorten healing time by resting the arm as much as possible. He or she can reduce swelling by applying ice packs at regular intervals and elevating the joint, and avoid re-injuring the elbow by using the sling provided by the doctor when walking around. After allowing the joint to rest for about five days, doctors usually recommend movement and stretching exercises to regain flexibility and strength. With consistent light exercise, most people with dislocated elbows are able to fully recover in three to four weeks.

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Discussion Comments


A lot of people can recover from a dislocated elbow by themselves at home, but if it's seriously enough, some people need physical therapy for dislocated elbow. A friend of mine is a physical therapist, and I remember her telling me one of her recent patients had a dislocated elbow.

The patient with the dislocated elbow didn't need a very long course of physical therapy though, especially compared with some other injuries.


@starrynight - Even if your sister didn't dislocate her elbow, I imagine elbow pain treatment might be the same in both instances. A friend of mine dislocated her elbow, and she was on some pretty serious pain medication while she was healing.

From what she told me, the pain was pretty excruciating, both during the injury and while she was healing. Luckily the pain medication helped her deal with it so she could function during that time period (although she did have a lot of trouble at work, as her job requires a lot of typing.)


My sister injured her elbow a few years ago, and let me tell you, it was not pretty. She had taken a trip to Europe with her church youth group, and on her first night there one of the other members playfully tripped her. Guess what she fell on? Yep, her elbow.

I'm not sure if she dislocated it, but she she definitely broke one of her bones. She ended up needing two surgeries and spent months wearing an elbow brace. She couldn't use her left arm for quite awhile, which made life fairly difficult.

I know the recovery time is a lot shorter for just a dislocated elbow, but I think it could really adversely affect your life for that time. Think about how much you use both of your arms and hands!

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    • A sling may be required to treat a dislocated elbow.
      By: waxart
      A sling may be required to treat a dislocated elbow.
    • A dislocated elbow may be the result of a bad fall.
      By: SENTELLO
      A dislocated elbow may be the result of a bad fall.