Elbow Dislocations

Elbow dislocation is a condition in which the bones that make up the elbow joint (the humerus, radius, and ulna) are forced out of their normal position, causing a separation of the joint. This can result from trauma or injury, such as a fall or blow to the arm, and can cause severe pain, swelling, and loss of function in the affected arm. Elbow dislocations are considered a medical emergency and require prompt treatment to avoid long-term complications such as nerve and blood vessel damage, chronic instability, and loss of motion. Treatment may include reduction of the dislocated joint (i.e. putting the bones back into their normal position), immobilization with a cast or splint, rehabilitation exercises, and in some cases, surgery.

Causes of Elbow Dislocations

Elbow dislocations are usually caused by a traumatic injury that forces the elbow joint out of its normal position. Some common causes of elbow dislocations include:

Falling onto an outstretched arm: This is a common cause of elbow dislocations, especially in sports or outdoor activities.

Direct trauma to the elbow: A direct blow to the elbow, such as in a car accident, can cause the bones of the elbow joint to dislocate.

Sports injuries: Contact sports like football, basketball, or soccer can put an individual at risk for elbow dislocations.

Overuse injuries: Repetitive motion or overuse of the elbow joint, such as in throwing sports, can lead to elbow dislocations.

Congenital abnormalities: Some individuals may be born with congenital abnormalities that affect the structure or stability of the elbow joint, making them more susceptible to dislocations.

Previous injury or dislocation: Individuals who have had a previous elbow injury or dislocation may be at increased risk for recurrent dislocations.

It is important to seek medical attention if you suspect an elbow dislocation, as prompt diagnosis and treatment can help minimize complications and improve outcomes.

Signs and Symptoms of Elbow Dislocations

The signs and symptoms of an elbow dislocation can vary in severity depending on the extent of the injury. Some common signs and symptoms of an elbow dislocation include:

  • Severe pain: Pain is usually the first symptom of an elbow dislocation. The pain may be sudden and intense, and may worsen with movement.
  • Swelling: Swelling around the elbow joint is common after an elbow dislocation.
  • Deformity: The elbow joint may appear visibly deformed, with the forearm appearing out of place relative to the upper arm.
  • Limited range of motion: An elbow dislocation can cause limited range of motion in the elbow joint, making it difficult to move the arm or bend the elbow.
  • Numbness or tingling: In some cases, an elbow dislocation can cause nerve damage, leading to numbness or tingling in the affected arm.
  • Weakness: Weakness in the arm and hand may be present after an elbow dislocation, making it difficult to grip or lift objects.
  • If you experience any of these symptoms after a fall or injury, it is important to seek prompt medical attention. An elbow dislocation is a serious injury that requires immediate treatment to prevent long-term complications.

Treatment for Elbow Dislocations

Physiotherapy is an important component of the treatment for elbow dislocations. It can help to restore strength, range of motion, and function in the affected arm, and can also help to prevent future injuries. Here are some common physiotherapy treatments for elbow dislocations:

Immobilization: Following an elbow dislocation, the joint may need to be immobilized with a cast, brace, or splint to allow for proper healing.

Range of motion exercises: Once the joint has healed sufficiently, a physiotherapist may begin range of motion exercises to help restore flexibility and function in the elbow joint.

Strengthening exercises: A physiotherapist may recommend strengthening exercises to help rebuild the muscles and improve stability in the affected arm.

Manual therapy: Techniques such as massage and joint mobilization can help to reduce pain and stiffness in the elbow joint.

Neuromuscular re-education: A physiotherapist may use techniques to help retrain the muscles and nerves in the affected arm, such as proprioceptive exercises.

Education: A physiotherapist can provide education on proper body mechanics and techniques to prevent future injuries.

It is important to follow the guidance of a physiotherapist in the treatment of an elbow dislocation, as improper rehabilitation can lead to long-term complications such as chronic instability or reduced range of motion.

If you have any questions or would like to speak to a therapist about elbow dislocations please call us at 03 9836 1126.



Vitale, M. A., Ahmad, C. S., & Huegel, M. (2019). “Elbow dislocations: a review of management and rehabilitation.” Journal of Orthopaedic Surgery and Research

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