The elbow joint is made up of three bones – the humerus, the upper arm bone, the radius and ulna, the forearm bones. There are ligaments and muscles surrounding the elbow joint to allow for stability and mobility at the joint.
The elbow can flex and extend (bend and straighten) and pronate and supinate (rotate the forearm up and down).
An elbow dislocation is related to a traumatic incident where the joint is forced out of its normal position. Discolations can be described as ‘simple’ or ‘complex’. When a dislocation occurs the bones, ligaments, muscle and sometimes nerves can all be affected which impacts on the mobility, stability and function of the elbow joint.
Elbow dislocations are the result of a traumatic incident. This is often from a fall onto an outstretched hand where the force is transmitted along the forearm to the elbow. It can also be the result of impact from car accidents or sporting accidents. They are most commonly seen in children.
There will be significant pain following an elbow dislocation. Your arm may appear deformed and you will have reduced range of motion. An elbow dislocation is a medical emergency requiring urgent attention.
As part of the treatment, the elbow will be relocated. This ideally should be done in the emergency department of the nearest hosptial. You will need to be assessed by a doctor to determine the most appropriate treatment plan which will be dependent on the extent of the injuries. To help with this, you will be required to have an X-ray and other imaging such as a CT scan or MRI. This may be ordered by your surgeon if required.
If it is just a ‘simple dislocation’ where there are no fractures then, once relocated, you will be put in a sling or splint and you should seek early physiotherapy treatment. Early mobilisation exercises are usually encouraged to prevent the elbow from getting stuck. As you progress through the rehabilitation process, your therapist will guide you through strengthening exercises and ensure you return to your normal function.
For more complex dislocations, surgery will be required to stabilise fractures and/or repair ligaments. Post-operative therapy is essential to regain range of motion, strength and function in the arm.
Early mobilisation is important to restore movement and function in the elbow following a dislocation. Our upper limb therapists are highly skilled in assessing and treating the elbow and are well equipped to guide you safely through the rehabilitation process. The sooner you book an appointment for an assessment and treatment, the better.