Elbow Dislocation

A dislocated elbow occurs when any of the three bones in the elbow joint (the humerus, ulna and radius) become separated or knocked out of their normal positions. An elbow dislocation is extremely painful, as it causes damage to the surrounding ligaments, and may cause damage to the surrounding muscles, nerves and tendons.

An elbow dislocation can fall under 2 categories: luxation (total separation of the elbow joint) and subluxation (partial dislocation of the elbow joint). According to the extent of damage done by the dislocation, there are 3 types of dislocations:

Simple dislocation
There is no major bone injury

Complex dislocation
There are severe bone and ligament injuries

Severe dislocation
There is injury to the blood vessels and nerves around the elbow


A dislocated elbow has the following symptoms:

  • Bruising and swelling in the arm
  • Deformity in the arm
  • Weakness and loss of feeling in your hand
  • Unable to move and bend the arm
  • Extreme pain in the arm


Some causes of elbow dislocation include:

  • Trying to stop a fall with an outstretched hand
  • High impact blows to the elbow such as a motor vehicle accident
  • Sports injuries
  • Overuse
  • Joint disorders such as Ehlers-Danlos syndrome where people have unusually loose and flexible joints


A history of the injury and a physical examination of the elbow and arm will be conducted by the Doctor. He will check for any deformity and tenderness, and also check the wrist for a pulse. Nerve supply to the hand will also be checked in the case of nerve injury during dislocation.

Imaging tests will be taken, such as an x-ray for the doctor to examine the location of the dislocation. Rarely, a CT scan or an MRI scan may also be taken.


Typically, nonsurgical treatments are recommended for a simple dislocation.

This includes:

  • Wearing a sling to keep the elbow in place
  • Reduction of the elbow to restore the alignment of the bones
  • Physiotherapy to regain muscle strength and restore the range of motion of the elbow
  • Medications for pain relief such as acetaminophen and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen to reduce pain and swelling

For a complex or severe dislocation, surgery may be required to repair the damaged ligaments, muscles and nerves, and restore bone alignment. Your elbow will be protected with an external hinge after surgery to help your elbow heal and prevent future dislocations.