An elbow dislocation occurs when the joint surfaces of an elbow are separated. When not dislocated, the ligaments connected to the bones in the elbow keep the joint together and the bones aligned. When an elbow dislocates, the ligaments and bones can become injured, and depending on the severity, can require surgical or non-surgical treatment.
While elbow dislocations are not common, they usually occur as a result of a fall or some other accident when a person falls and catches themselves with an outstretched hand. The force of this fall can cause the elbow to rotate out of its socket. Elbow dislocations can also happen in car accidents as a result of passengers bracing themselves prior to impact. Some people are born with more laxity, or looseness, in their ligaments. These people, as well as those with other physical anomalies, are at greater risk for elbow dislocations.
Although an elbow dislocation is usually very obvious, the elbow should be set (put back into place) by a doctor to minimize additional trauma to the joint. An x-ray, physical examination, and CT scan or MRI will then be used to determine the extent of the injury to plan the necessary course of treatment. Generally, with treatment, stability will be achieved.