Symptom, Causes and Diagnosis of Elbow Dislocation

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What is Elbow Dislocation?

What is a Dislocation?

Before we dive into the subject of elbow dislocation, let’s get to understand what a dislocation is. A joint is an articulation between 2 bones. A dislocation is an injury to a joint, when the 2 bones lose 100% of their articulation or congruence. A subluxation is a partial dislocation with partial loss of congruity. Joints are connected by soft tissues such as ligaments and joint capsules. Ligaments are tough bands of tissues that connect bones to stabilize the joint, while joint capsules are thin, sac-like structures that surround joints.


In the event of a dislocation, the two bones become separated, which is usually caused by a significant force. This not only pushes the bones out of place but may also cause damage to the surrounding soft tissues, including tearing of ligaments, and tendons, or in severe cases, even affect the nerves and blood vessels.

Elbow Dislocation | Avant Orthopaedics

What are the Different Types of Elbow Dislocation?

An elbow is dislocated when the humerus, ulna, and radius are knocked or pushed out of place. This is an incredibly painful injury which can make moving the elbow difficult. This injury can be divided into simple and complex based on the damage to your joint and surrounding tissue:

In a simple dislocation, the radius and ulna become separated from the humerus at the elbow joint. This separation could result in injuries to the ligaments that support your elbow, but there are no fractures present in the bones themselves.

On the other hand, a complex dislocation involves the fracture of either the humerus, radius, ulna or all of them combined. It could also result in severe injuries to your ligaments and tendons.

Your doctor may also classify the dislocation based on the extent of how far your bones were moved:

Also known as luxation, a complete dislocation happens when the joint surfaces are separated with the bones pushed out of place, with total loss of congruity.

Partial dislocations may be referred to as subluxation. It is used to describe joint surfaces that are pulled apart but the bones are still touching partially.

What are the Symptoms of Elbow Dislocation?

A dislocated elbow can be painful, whether it is partial or complete. This can make it difficult for you to stretch your arm, lift objects, or perform simple actions such as raising your hand.

Following an elbow dislocation, the soft tissues around the elbow joint may become inflamed which can lead to swelling. There may also be blood vessels that might be damaged during the dislocation, resulting in bruising around the elbow.

Due to injury, swelling, pain, and stiffness, you may experience a limited area of mobility for your elbow joint. The extent of this limitation depends on the severity of the dislocation.

In some cases, a dislocated elbow can cause a visible deformity in the joint. The elbow may appear out of place or misaligned compared to the unaffected arm.

If the dislocation causes damage to the nerves around the elbow, it can lead to numbness or tingling sensations in the arm or hand. This symptom is less common but may occur in severe cases.

What are the Common Causes of Elbow Dislocation?

A common cause of elbow dislocation is trauma, which is usually caused by a vehicle collision, or a direct blow to the elbow. It can result in a forceful displacement of the bones that form the elbow joint, leading to a dislocation.

Players of close contact sports such as rugby and football are at a higher risk of developing elbow dislocation. This is because players are often involved in physical contact or collisions that can result in significant force being applied to the elbow.

Falling from heights or onto your outstretched hand can lead to elbow dislocation. The severity, however, can vary depending on the angle of impact, and the position of the arm during the incident.

How Is Elbow Dislocation Diagnosed | Avant Orthopardics

How is Elbow Dislocation Diagnosed?

Your doctor will examine the affected elbow and inspect for signs of swelling, bruising, or deformities. You may also be asked about any past injuries, and your medical history, and describe the events leading up to the injury.

X-rays are commonly used to diagnose elbow dislocations as they can provide detailed images of the position of the bones in your elbow joint. This can help your doctor determine if there are any fractures present, as well as, their severity.

This is an imaging technique that uses electromagnetic waves to produce detailed images of muscles, tendons, ligaments, and soft tissues in the body. It can be used to diagnose and evaluate the extent of elbow dislocations along with aid in treatment planning.

CT scan is a diagnostic technique usually done before surgery takes place to assess fractures that occur within a joint. It can be helpful for your doctor when it comes to planning the surgical approach and understanding the extent of the fracture.

Are You or Your Loved Ones Suffering from Elbow Dislocation?

An elbow dislocation can lead to pain, swelling, and limited mobility in the affected area. If you or a loved one are experiencing these symptoms after an injury or a fall, contact us at Avant Orthopaedics to receive a personalised consultation and learn about available treatments.

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