Elbow Dislocation


Elbow Dislocation (Discharge Care) Care Guide

  • An elbow dislocation (dih-slo-k-shun) happens when the bones in the elbow are pulled apart. This causes stretching or tearing of the ligaments that hold the bones together in the elbow joint. Your elbow may be swollen, red, or hurt. Your elbow, arm, and hand may feel weak, numb, or tingly. When the bones are out of place, your elbow may not be shaped normal. You will not be able to move the injured elbow very well.

  • Dislocated elbows are caused by an injury or an accident. Many times as you fall you reach out with your hand to stop the fall. Landing on your outstretched hand can cause your elbow to dislocate. Each time your elbow is dislocated, it is easier for it to happen again. You may need an x-ray of your elbow. Caregivers can then put the bones back where they belong. This may be painful until the bones are popped back into place. It may take from 6 to 8 weeks for the elbow to heal. If your elbow pulls apart easily and often, you may need surgery to fix it.


  • The most important part of treating a dislocated elbow is resting the elbow. This lessens swelling and allows the injury to heal. When the pain decreases, begin normal, slow movements.

  • Ice causes blood vessels to constrict (get small) which helps lessen inflammation (swelling, pain, and redness). Put crushed ice in a plastic bag and cover it with a towel. Put this on your elbow for 15 to 20 minutes every hour as long as you need it. Do not sleep on the ice pack because you can get frostbite.

  • Caregivers may put a figure-of-8 bandage or sling on your arm to keep the bones from moving. This helps lessen pain and allows the elbow to heal.

    • You may be told to wear the sling constantly for 6 to 8 weeks, even at night. Putting a folded wash cloth in your armpit will help make your arm and hand more comfortable.

    • You may remove the sling for bathing or showering. Be sure to keep your elbow in the same place as when the sling is on.

  • Keep your elbow raised above the level of your heart whenever possible for 48 to 72 hours. This helps lessen the pain and swelling.

  • Medicines:

    • Always take your medicine as directed by caregivers. If you think it is not helping or if you feel you are having side effects, call your caregiver. Do not quit taking it until you discuss it with your caregiver.

    • Keep a written list of what medicines you are taking and when you take them. Bring the list of your medicines or the pill bottles when you see your caregiver(s). Learn why you take each medicine. Ask your caregiver for information about your medicines.

    • You may use ibuprofen (i-bew-pro-fin) and acetaminophen (uh-c-tuh-min-o-fin) for your pain. These may be bought as over-the-counter medicine. Do not take ibuprofen if you are allergic to aspirin.

    • If you scratched or tore some skin, you may also need a tetanus shot or antibiotic (an-ti-bi-ah-tik) medicine. If you got a tetanus shot, your arm may get swollen, red, and warm to touch at the shot site. This is a normal reaction to the medicine in the shot.

    • If you are taking antibiotics (an-ti-bi-ah-tiks), take them until they are all gone even if you feel better.


  • Your pain or swelling gets worse.

  • You have trouble moving your elbow after your injury.

  • The bones in your elbow pop in and out of place more than once.


  • Your arm feels numb or cold and looks pale.

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The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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