Elbow Dislocation Physiotherapy Treatment - Ultimate Guide

Elbow Dislocation Physiotherapy Treatment - Ultimate Guide

PHYSIOTHERAPY Body parts: Elbow,

Elbow dislocation is the second most common dislocation after shoulder dislocations among young adults in Singapore. It is also the most commonly dislocated joint in children. Both injuries are highly significant because they can cause subsequent damage and restrict one's range of motion.


Understanding the causes, symptoms, and treatment options for a dislocated elbow is crucial for a successful outcome and recovery.

In this guide, we will discuss what elbow dislocation is, how it occurs, and explore diagnosis, treatment modalities, recovery times, prevention strategies, and essential exercises to aid in rehabilitation. We will dive deeper into the key aspects of managing and recovering from a dislocated elbow with the help of physiotherapy.

What is Elbow Dislocation?

A dislocated elbow occurs when the bones of the elbow joint are forced out of their normal position. This can happen due to various reasons, including sports injuries, falls, or motor vehicle accidents. The elbow joint, which is a complex hinge joint formed by the humerus (upper arm bone), radius, and ulna (forearm bones), is one of the most commonly dislocated joints in the body.

Elbow dislocations fall into two main categories: simple and complex dislocations.

Simple Elbow Dislocation

Simple dislocations in the elbow joint are mainly injuries in the soft tissues and ligaments. This means there are no major injuries or fractures to the three bones in the elbow joint. Simple dislocation makes up over half of elbow dislocation cases.

Complex Elbow Dislocation

A complex dislocation in the elbow severe injury or fracture to the bones and ligaments, particularly in these areas:

  • radial head
  • coronoid process
  • olecranon
  • humeral condyles
  • capitellum
  • epicondyles

These fractures can also damage the medial collateral ligament, further complicating the injury. This ligament plays a crucial role in stabilizing the elbow, and its disruption can significantly impact the joint's function and stability.

Simple elbow dislocations or complex, it's important to seek medical attention when faced with these injuries.

What Causes Elbow Dislocations?

Elbow dislocations are relatively common injuries in the elbow that vary in severity. They can be caused by various factors, including:

Sports Injuries

Contact sports like football, rugby, and hockey frequently lead to elbow dislocations. The high-impact nature of these sports often puts athletes at risk for such injuries.

Falls or Trips

Most elbow dislocations occur when an individual falls onto an outstretched hand or when you catch yourself with an outstretched arm. This instinctive reaction can cause the upper arm bone to dislocate from the elbow joint. Falls are particularly common among older adults due to a higher risk of slips and trips.

Motor Vehicle Accident

Car accidents often cause dislocated elbows, especially when individuals instinctively reach out to brace themselves. The force of the collision can easily displace the bones of the elbow joint.

Rheumatoid Arthritis and Similar Conditions

Rheumatoid arthritis weakens the connective tissues around the elbow, increasing the risk of dislocation. Other conditions that affect joint stability can similarly predispose individuals to this injury.

Dislocated Elbow Diagnosis

Diagnosing an elbow dislocation typically involves a physical examination by an orthopaedic specialist or a treating physiotherapist. They will assess the range of motion, joint stability, and look for signs of nerve damage or other complications. They may perform imaging tests like X-rays or MRI scans to confirm the diagnosis and rule out any fractures or other injuries.

What are the Symptoms?

The symptoms of an elbow dislocation can vary depending on the severity of the elbow injury, but common signs include the following:

  • Severe pain in the elbow
  • Swelling and bruising around the joint
  • Difficulty moving the elbow or performing everyday tasks
  • Numbness or tingling in the arm or hand

Elbow Joint Treatment

The treatment for an elbow dislocation usually involves a combination of conservative management and physical therapy. A leading physiotherapy provider in Singapore like Phoenix Rehab tailors personalized treatment plans for injuries that impact bones or joints without invasive injections or surgery.

Prolonged immobilization often leads to stiffness in the elbow joint, requiring longer recovery and additional therapy. During the assessment, your physical therapist will evaluate your current range of motion and prescribe exercises to help you regain mobility and function. Early mobilization is a priority at this point of treatment.

Conservative management may include the following exercises and procedures:

  • Immobilizing the elbow in a splint or cast to allow the joint and surrounding connective tissues to heal
  • Anti-inflammatory medication to reduce pain and control swelling
  • Gentle exercises to maintain range of motion and prevent stiffness
  • Flexibility and strengthening exercises
  • Manual therapy, massage therapy, and pain relief

For sports-related elbow injuries, your physical therapist will design a sport-specific rehabilitation plan to get you back in the game.

Physical therapy is crucial for recovering from an elbow dislocation. Even while the elbow is in a sling, a physical therapist will guide you through gentle exercises and management.

Self-management steps to reduce pain from a dislocated elbow include rest, ice therapy, keeping the elbow elevated, and taking over-the-counter medications.

In some cases, surgical treatment may be necessary, especially for complex dislocations or those with nerve damage.

How Long to Recover from a Dislocated Elbow?

The recovery time for an elbow dislocation can vary depending on the severity of the injury and the effectiveness of treatment. Generally, it can take several weeks to several months for the joint to fully heal and regain its normal function.

Even if your elbow dislocation is repaired through manipulation, joint reduction, or surgery, physical therapy is vital for complete recovery. The goal of physical therapy is to fully restore strength and range of motion before and after major treatments.

Common long-term effects of a dislocated elbow include a reduced range of movement, particularly in extension, and an increased likelihood of future dislocations or elbow sprain.

In cases of recurrent elbow dislocation, surgery may be necessary to enhance stability. This is typically followed by an extensive rehabilitation program lasting several months.

How to Prevent Recurrence of Elbow Dislocation?

Preventing elbow dislocations involves taking steps to reduce the risk of injury, such as:

  • Wearing protective gear during sports
  • Avoiding falls by being mindful of the surroundings
  • Maintaining good joint flexibility and strength through regular exercise
  • Using proper techniques and equipment during physical activities
  • Addressing any joint instability or weakness promptly with medical advice

Elbow Joint Exercises

Physiotherapy plays a crucial role in the rehabilitation process after an elbow dislocation. A treating physiotherapist will design a customized exercise program to relieve pain and reduce stiffness, improve range of motion and joint stability, and strengthen the surrounding muscles to prevent future injuries.

Some common exercises used include:

  • Elbow flexion and extension active ROM exercises
  • Strengthening exercises for the forearm and upper arm muscles
  • Overhead motion protocol to improve joint mobility and strength
  • Gentle AROM and PROM exercises targeting the upper limb
  • Progressive resistance exercises
  • Full ROM and strength in the later phase of rehabilitation

By following a comprehensive treatment plan that includes physiotherapy, individuals can achieve optimal outcomes and regain full function in their elbow joints.

Dealing with elbow pain involves more than just addressing fractures. To assist you further, we've developed detailed guides on physiotherapy for tennis elbow pain, physiotherapy for golfers elbow, and physiotherapy for fractured elbow. Explore our resources to gain a deeper understanding and effective management strategies for these conditions.

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