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.
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.
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.