April 26, 2019

How can I tell if I dislocated my elbow?

Hand, Wrist and Elbow


An elbow dislocation can require urgent treatment. Call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room. OrthoIndy Trauma physicians are located at St.Vincent Indianapolis Level I Trauma Center.

An elbow dislocation occurs when the bones of the forearm (the ulna and radius) move out of place with the upper arm bone (the humerus). The elbow joint, formed with the radius, ulna and humerus, would be considered dislocated if the joint pops out of place and the ligaments are disconnected. However, there are different types of elbow dislocations to consider when you’ve injured your elbow.

What types of elbow dislocations are common?

Typically, elbow dislocations occur if a person falls onto an outstretched hand. The impact is sent to the elbow when the hand hits the ground. There can be a turning motion from the force of the impact. This can rotate the elbow out of its socket.

  • A simple dislocation does not have any major bone injury.
  • A complex dislocation can have severe ligament and bone injuries.
  • A partial dislocation is called a subluxation, a slight misalignment. This is common if you accidentally hit your elbow up against something or something hits your elbow.
  • A complete dislocation is common after a traumatic fall or accident where you land on your elbow or reach forward to brace for impact. With a complete dislocation, the joint surfaces are separated entirely.
  • A severe dislocation is when the blood vessels and nerves travel across the elbow and are injured. This is the most severe dislocation because there is a risk of losing the arm.
Parent's guide to at-home treatment

Partial elbow dislocation symptoms

  • Pain
  • Bruising
  • Swelling
  • Inability to bend the arm

Complete elbow dislocation symptoms

  • Extreme pain
  • Arm deformity
  • Odd twist at the elbow
  • Loss of feeling
  • Inability to bend the arm

Physician examination

To determine how to treat your elbow pain, your physician will ask you for a complete medical history, have you describe your symptoms and how the injury occurred and conduct a physical examination.


Surgical treatment for an elbow dislocation

In a complex elbow dislocation, surgery may be necessary to repair ligaments and bone alignment. After surgery, the elbow may be protected with an external hinge. This helps protect the elbow from dislocating again. If nerve or blood vessels were injured, additional surgery may be necessary.

Learn more about hand, wrist and elbow at OrthoIndy.

Schedule an appointment

Your well-being is important to us. Click the button below or call us to schedule an appointment with one of our orthopedic specialists. If your injury or condition is recent, you can walk right into one of our OrthoIndy Urgent Care locations for immediate care. For rehabilitation and physical therapy, no referral is needed to see one of our physical therapists.

Schedule an Appointment Call OrthoIndy 317.802.2000
Ashley McGovern

By Ashley McGovern

Ashley is the current PR coordinator for OrthoIndy. Ashley is responsible for all media relations functions and social media strategies. Ashley graduated from Purdue University in 2017 with a bachelor’s degree in public relations and strategic communications with a certificate in entrepreneurship. She has been with OrthoIndy since January 2018.

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