A dislocated elbow occurs when the bones that make up the joint are forced out of alignment — most typically when a person lands on an outstretched hand during a fall.
Toddlers may experience a dislocated elbow, sometimes known as nursemaids' elbow, if they are lifted or swung by their forearms.
If you or your child has a dislocated elbow, seek immediate medical attention. Complications can occur if the dislocated elbow pinches or traps the blood vessels and nerves that serve the lower arm and hand.
In most cases, a dislocated elbow can be realigned without surgery. However, the impact that caused the elbow to dislocate also can cause bone fractures within the joint, so surgical repair may be necessary.
Signs and symptoms of a dislocated elbow commonly include:
In some cases, the elbow may be only partially dislocated, which can cause bruising and pain where the ligaments were stretched or torn.
When to see a doctor
In adults, the most common causes of a dislocated elbow include:
In young children, the injury often occurs when an extra pulling motion is applied to an outstretched arm. Examples include:
Complications of a dislocated elbow may include:
Preparing for your appointment
If you or your child has a dislocated elbow, you'll probably seek medical attention in a hospital's emergency department or at an urgent care center. If the injury involves broken bones, you may be referred to an orthopedic surgeon.
What you can do
What to expect from your doctor
Tests and diagnosis
Imaging exams that may be used include:
Treatments and drugs
Some dislocated elbows go back into place by themselves. Most, however, need a doctor to manipulate the bones back into their proper alignment. This procedure is called a reduction.
In children, dislocated elbows — sometimes known as nursemaids' elbow — may be prevented if adults avoid lifting or swinging the child by the arms.
Last Updated: 2010-02-20
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