Elbow dislocation

Older man holding elbow

​An elbow dislocation occurs when the two bones that meet at the elbow joint are forced apart. Common causes include falls, car accidents or the violent twisting of the elbow. The elbow is one of the most commonly dislocated joints in the body.

Two types of elbow dislocation are:

  • Simple dislocations–dislocations without any bone injury.

  • Complex dislocations—dislocations that also cause bone injury.

Elbow dislocation symptoms 

The symptoms of elbow dislocation include:

  • Bruising

  • Inability to move the elbow

  • Numbness or tingling

  • Inability to bend the elbow

  • Pain

  • Swelling 

  • Visible deformity of the elbow 

In some elbow dislocations, nerve or blood vessel damage can occur. Seek medical attention immediately for a dislocated elbow. 

Elbow dislocation diagnosis 

Your doctor may use one or more of the following tests to diagnose a dislocated elbow:

  • A physical exam—to assess pain, swelling and range of motion in the elbow.

  • X-rays—an imaging test to view the position of the elbow dislocation and look for any possible fractures.

Elbow dislocation treatment 

Depending on the severity of your dislocated elbow, your treatment may include: 

  • Repositioning (reduction maneuver)—typically the first form of treatment. This is a procedure where a doctor gently maneuvers the elbow into its correct position. He or she may give you local or general anesthesia before this procedure. 

  • Immobilization—your doctor may tell you to wear a sling or splint for a few weeks to allow your elbow to heal. 

  • Physical therapy—you may need physical therapy once your sling is removed to strengthen the arm muscles. Physical therapy can help reduce your chances of repeated dislocation. 

  • RICE method—using rest, ice, compression and elevation to help heal the injury. 

  • Surgery—may be necessary for severe or complex dislocations to repair the fractures and ligaments. 

At The Christ Hospital Health Network, our orthopedic specialists have the experience and skill to diagnose and treat a dislocated elbow so you can get back to your active lifestyle.

Find an elbow specialist near you.