A dislocation is a separation of 2 bones where they meet at a joint. Joints are areas where 2 bones come together.
A dislocated joint is a joint where the bones are no longer in their normal positions.
It may be hard to tell a dislocated joint from a broken bone. Both are emergencies that need first aid treatment.
Most dislocations can be treated in a doctor's office or emergency room. You may be given medicine to make you sleepy and to numb the area. Sometimes, general anesthesia that puts you into a deep sleep is needed.
When treated early, most dislocations do not cause permanent injury.
You should expect that:
Once a joint has been dislocated, it is more likely to happen again. After being treated in the emergency room, you should follow up with an orthopaedic surgeon (a bone and joint doctor).
Dislocations are usually caused by a sudden impact to the joint. This usually occurs following a blow, fall, or other trauma.
A dislocated joint may be:
Nursemaid's elbow, or pulled elbow, is a partial dislocation that is common in toddlers. The main symptom is pain so that the child doesn’t want to use the arm. This dislocation can be easily treated in a doctor's office.
First aid steps to take:
Call 911 right away if the person has any of the following:
To help prevent injuries in children:
To help prevent dislocations in adults:
For all age groups:
Horn AE, Ufberg JW. Management of common dislocations. In: Roberts JR, Custalow CB, eds. Roberts & Hedges' Clinical Procedures in Emergency Medicine. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2014:chap 49.
Klimke A, Furin M. Prehospital immobilization. In: Roberts JR, Custalow CB, eds. Roberts & Hedges' Clinical Procedures in Emergency Medicine. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2014:chap 46.
Mascioli AA. Acute disclocations. In: Canale ST, Beaty JH, eds. Campbell's Operative Orthopaedics. 12th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2013:chap 60.
Last reviewed on: 4/17/2016
Reviewed by: C. Benjamin Ma, MD, Professor, Chief, Sports Medicine and Shoulder Service, UCSF Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, San Francisco, CA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.