Elbow Dislocation

Elbow Dislocation

What is it?

An elbow dislocation occurs when the joint surfaces of an elbow are either completely or partially separated. In a complete separation, the bones no longer have contact. Meanwhile, in a partial dislocation—also known as subluxation—the joints still have contact.

Causes, Symptoms and Risk Factors

Elbow dislocations typically result from falls, accidents or contact or extreme sports when a person reaches out his or her arm to brace his or herself. The force of the impact can push and turn the elbow, and cause it to move from its socket. Since several main nerves travel through the elbow joint, an elbow fracture may also lead to nerve damage. Likewise, there are blood vessels in the elbow that may be damaged during a fracture.

Symptoms include:

  • Pain that is especially severe in a complete dislocation
  • Deformity of the arm in the elbow area
  • Swelling


A doctor will examine the elbow for deformity and swelling, and review the symptoms with the patient. The doctor will also:

  • Take X-rays to determine the presence and extent of the dislocation
  • Check blood circulation and nerve response in the arm for further damage


Treatment is intended to realign the elbow and eventually restore arm function.

The doctor may treat a slight elbow dislocation by keeping the joint stabilized in a splint or sling for several weeks, followed by physical therapy. A severe elbow dislocation may require surgery to realign the bones and repair elbow ligaments.

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