Diagnosis and Treatment of Elbow Dislocation in Wake County

What is Elbow Dislocation?

Elbow dislocations are common in both children and adults alike. The elbow joint is formed by the meeting of three separate bones – the upper arm bone (humerus) and the two forearm bones (radius and ulna). Ligaments keep these bones in the correct positions. Dislocations to the elbow can be complete or partial. A complete dislocation is where the bones lose contact with one another, whereas a partial dislocation means the bones have lost some contact with one another. An elbow dislocation can be further classified as complex or simple. Complex dislocations mean there are fractures present in addition to soft tissue damage. Simple dislocations mean there is only soft tissue damage. Simple dislocations are less likely than complex dislocations to require surgery. No matter the severity of your dislocation, our elbow specialists at Raleigh Orthopaedic will be here to help you.

What Causes Elbow Dislocation?

Trauma to the elbow joint is a common cause of elbow dislocations. Trauma may include a sports injury, a car accident, or a fall. Elbow dislocations often require a great deal of force to occur. Sometimes, after repetitive activity or overuse, the soft structures of the elbow can loosen and weaken, leaving you more prone to dislocation and instability in the elbow.

Elbow Dislocation Risk Factors

Risk factors for elbow dislocations include weak or loose elbow ligaments as a result of repetitive activities or overuse of the joint. Participating in certain sports or activities can also increase your risk for an elbow dislocation, especially sports that can lead to falls braced with an outstretched arm.

Symptoms of a Dislocated Elbow

There are several possible signs of a dislocated elbow. If you experience any of the following issues, please come see one of our orthopedic specialists at Raleigh Orthopaedic:

  • Elbow pain
  • Bruising of the surrounding skin
  • Swelling
  • A visible deformity of the bone
  • Weakness in the elbow
  • Inability to move the joint.

How is Elbow Dislocation Diagnosed?

Your doctor will perform a physical examination, taking care to note if there are any open injuries on the surface of the skin, if there is any nerve damage or blood vessel damage, and if there are any other injuries present aside from the dislocation (such as in the wrist or shoulder). Afterward, your doctor will likely order imaging tests. You may need several X-rays to provide different views of the injury and determine whether there are fractures present. You may also require a CT scan if the X-ray fails to provide a complete picture. An MRI to assess soft tissue injury may also be done, but this is less common.

Treatment For Elbow Dislocation

Elbow dislocation may be treated surgically or nonsurgically. Your physician will walk you through your treatment options based on your specific injury and will ensure that any questions you have about your treatment plan are answered.

Nonsurgical Treatment

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In most cases, elbow dislocation is treated non-surgically. It is critical that you seek medical help right away if you suspect you have dislocated your elbow. The sooner the doctor can manipulate or “reduce” the bones back into their proper position, the less likely it is that you will suffer long-term issues with your nerves. Putting the bones back into place will also lessen your pain and swelling. You may be given pain medication or injections at the site of the joint, or even muscle relaxers to help with the initial recovery. It is important to keep the joint mobile soon after the reduction procedure because it can stiffen if left immobilized for too long. However, between these periods of therapy or motion, you will be provided a splint or sling to hold your arm in place and prevent any straining or additional dislocations.

Surgical Treatment Options

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If your doctor cannot reduce the bones into their proper position, or if the bones are unstable and do not remain in their proper position throughout your recovery, surgery will likely be necessary. You may also require surgery if you have significant tears to soft-tissue structures or damage to nerves or blood vessels. Often, complex elbow dislocations (dislocations that involve soft tissue injury AND fractures) will require surgery to repair.

Elbow Dislocation Recovery Time

Recovery from elbow dislocation surgery will require the use of a sling for four to six weeks. When your doctor deems you ready, you will begin a physical therapy regimen to restore movement and function to the joint. If you do not require surgery, the elbow may be kept in a sling for 1-3 weeks, after which you will perform motion exercises. Either recovery, no matter how smoothly it goes, may leave you with some limited range of motion as compared to your other, uninjured elbow.

How Can I Prevent Elbow Dislocation?

Prevention of elbow injuries may not be possible in all cases, but using caution in appropriate situations may help you avoid such an injury. For example, taking care while using unstable or slippery stairs or surfaces, along with avoiding overtraining in sports, can help prevent an elbow dislocation.

Expert Orthopedic Care and Treatment at Raleigh Orthopaedic

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For over 100 years, we have served patients in and around Wake County and provided the highest level of orthopedic care. We work with patients of all ages facing all manner of orthopedic conditions and injuries, striving to help each patient get back to the activities they love. To schedule an appointment with one of our orthopedic specialists in Wake County, please give us a call or book online today.