The elbow forcibly hyperextends, causing the ligaments to rupture, and sometimes a fracture will result. In some situations, the displaced bones may compress the nerves and blood vessels around the elbow requiring immediate reduction (repositioning) of the dislocation to relieve pressure. A physician can usually perform this procedure on the playing field or in the emergency department.
Dislocated elbows are common among children and adolescents.
The symptoms of a dislocated elbow are quite obvious and you will know when it happens. You'll feel immediate intense pain, your elbow won't bend, and it will swell. Because nerves run along your elbow, it is possible that they have been injured and you might lose feeling in your arm or hand..
If you think your elbow is dislocated, try to immobilize it and go to a doctor immediately for evaluation and treatment. Your doctor or emergency room physician will put your dislocated elbow back into place right away. You may need a local anaesthetic. If your injury is more than several hours old, you may need general anaesthesia because of swelling and muscle spasm.
Once your elbow joint is back in place, your doctor may flex, extend, and rotate your arm to make sure it is stable and capable of all its motions. Your doctor may also take x-rays to check for other injuries such as fractures and nerve damage. In some cases, these injuries may require additional treatments, including surgery.
Assuming your elbow was stable after your doctor put it back in place and you have no other major injuries such as a fractured bone in the elbow, you will wear a splint for only a few weeks. You may take nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen to ease any pain. Your doctor will tell you when you’re ready to begin exercises to work your elbow back to full function. Depending on the severity of the injury, it may take many months of physical therapy for your elbow to return to normal function.
Since elbow dislocations are nearly always results of falls or blows, there is not much that can be done to prevent them. However, use of proper protective equipment, such as elbow pads, is preventive.
The best way to prevent reoccurrences of a dislocated elbow is to only return to practice and competition when all symptoms of the injury are gone and strength of the affected arm has returned to normal. Furthermore, the rehabilitation exercises should be continued to ensure protective strength, range of motion, and stability of the injured joint.
The key to improving sports performance after recovering from a dislocated elbow is a proper rehabilitation program, and adhering to some of those same principles after the injury is gone.
Keep in mind that a dislocated elbow is most often the result of a fall or blow, and you can better prepare yourself for these incidences by paying close attention to the rehabilitation exercises listed above. These will not only keep you in the game, but will also help you perform better and with more confidence.
As an athlete, your number one concern is getting back to full strength as soon as possible so that you can return to training and competition. That is why appropriate rehabilitation is extremely important. Rehabilitation for a dislocated elbow often includes the following:
The major objectives of rehabilitation from a dislocated elbow are to increase flexibility, obtain pain-free range of motion, and strengthen the muscles of the arm. In severe cases, you should avoid activity that causes elbow pain altogether. In these cases, you can still maintain cardiovascular fitness by cycling, unless otherwise prescribed by your doctor.
Rehabilitative exercises should be performed on both sides of the body to maintain symmetry in the strength and range of motion of the arms. In many individuals, the tendency to dislocate an elbow is present on both sides, so doing these exercises to increase the pain-free range of motion and improve strength of both arms may help prevent injury to either elbow.
Rehabilitation exercises often prescribed by your doctor may include:
During the period when normal training should be avoided, alternative exercises may be used. These activities should not require any actions that create or intensify pain at the site of injury. They include:
Ligaments and tendons are the structures that suffer the main injury in most elbow dislocations, and often these tissues take longer to completely heal.
You can probably expect to experience pain upon certain movements of the arm, swelling, and discoloration for six weeks. But, it's not unusual for symptoms of the dislocation, particularly pain upon forceful movements of the arm, to last as long as 12 weeks. To some extent, the time to fully recover is influenced by your dedication to your rehabilitation program
Return to full participation should be avoided until you are symptom free and can perform all skills and other requirements of your sport without pain. To return earlier is to invite further injury to the elbow, making subsequent dislocations more likely. This is especially true when the sport involves heavy contact, such as in football or rugby.
Generally, the athlete who wishes to return to a contact sport should expect to be out of action for 6 to 12 weeks. Again, the time to return to full activity depends on the dedication toward your rehabilitation program.
Remember: the goal of rehabilitation is to return you to your sport or activity as soon as is safely possible. If you return too soon you may worsen your injury, which could lead to permanent damage. Everyone recovers from injury at a different rate. Return to your activity is determined by how soon your dislocated elbow recovers, not by how many days or weeks it has been since your injury occurred.