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Elbow Dislocation

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Feb 6, 2023.

What is an elbow dislocation?

An elbow dislocation 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.

Dislocated Elbow

What are the signs and symptoms of an elbow dislocation?

  • Swollen, red, or painful elbow
  • Weak, numb, or tingly elbow, arm, and hand
  • Elbow shape that is not normal
  • Trouble moving the elbow

How is an elbow dislocation diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will examine your arm and elbow. He or she will also ask questions about how your injury happened. You may need an x-ray of your elbow.

How is elbow dislocation treated?

  • NSAIDs , such as ibuprofen, help decrease swelling, pain, and fever. This medicine is available with or without a doctor's order. NSAIDs can cause stomach bleeding or kidney problems in certain people. If you take blood thinner medicine, always ask your healthcare provider if NSAIDs are safe for you. Always read the medicine label and follow directions.
  • Acetaminophen decreases pain and fever. It is available without a doctor's order. Ask how much to take and how often to take it. Follow directions. Read the labels of all other medicines you are using to see if they also contain acetaminophen, or ask your doctor or pharmacist. Acetaminophen can cause liver damage if not taken correctly.
  • Reduction is a procedure to move your elbow bones back into place. You will be given medicine to help you relax before your healthcare provider moves your elbow.
  • Surgery may be needed to put your bones back into place if it cannot be done with reduction. You may also need surgery if you have a broken bone.

How can I manage my symptoms?

  • Keep your elbow from moving, as directed. You may need to wear a splint on your arm to keep the bones from moving. This helps decrease pain and allows your elbow to heal. You may be told to wear the splint during the day and at night. Put a folded wash cloth under your armpit to help make your arm and hand more comfortable. Ask if you can remove the splint for bathing or showering.
  • Apply ice to your elbow for 15 to 20 minutes every hour or as directed. Use an ice pack, or put crushed ice in a plastic bag. Cover it with a towel. Ice helps prevent tissue damage and decreases swelling and pain.
  • Elevate your elbow above the level of your heart as often as you can. This will help decrease swelling and pain. Prop your elbow on pillows or blankets to keep it elevated comfortably.

  • Go to physical therapy, if directed. A physical therapist teaches you exercises to help improve movement and strength, and to decrease pain.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • Your arm feels numb or cold and looks pale.

When should I call my doctor?

  • Your pain or swelling gets worse.
  • You have trouble moving your elbow.
  • Your elbow bones pop in and out of place.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. 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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