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Physical Therapy for Elbow Dislocation

Physical Therapy for Elbow Dislocation

A condition characterized by damage and tearing of the connective tissue surrounding the elbow joint with subsequent displacement of the bones forming the joint, so they are no longer situated next to each other, is termed as an elbow dislocation. In other words, an elbow dislocation occurs when the bones of the forearm (the radius and ulna) move out of place compared with the bone of the arm. The elbow joint formed, where these three bones meet, becomes dislocated or moves out of the joint.

People who indulge into activities that require extensive physical work on a daily basis and use their hands more often to carry weights or various activities that exert too much pressure on the elbow joint, are more prone to elbow dislocations. At times, when forces are excessive and beyond what elbow can withstand, tearing of the connective tissue may occur. This may allow the bones forming the elbow joint to move out of their normal position if the forces involved are too great and beyond what the connective tissue, and supporting muscles can withstand. When this happens, the condition is known as a dislocated elbow.


Usually, a dislocated elbow occurs traumatically when forces push the elbow bones apart. This may occur following a direct impact (eg. during contact sports), motor vehicle accident or more commonly, due to fall onto the outstretched hand or arm (especially from a height and onto a hard surface). Elbow dislocations are occasionally seen in contact sports such as Rugby and football where collisions are inevitable and common.

‘Nursemaid’s elbow’ is a particular type of elbow dislocation that most commonly occurs in young children who have had an abrupt yanking of their forearm. And such a dislocation happens on the head of the radius bone at the elbow. Children less than 5 years old are more prone to ‘Nursemaid’s elbow’ condition.

Signs and Symptoms:

Patients with a dislocated elbow usually experience sudden severe pain at the time of injury. The pain experienced by patients is so intense that they cannot continue activity and may cradle the arm against the body in an attempt to protect the elbow. Pain is generally felt in and around the elbow region, however it can occasionally radiate into the arm, forearm, hand or fingers.

Patients often experience a sensation of the elbow ‘moving out’ at the time of injury. A visible deformity and swelling of the elbow may be detected when compared to the other arm along with bruising which may become more visible over time. On firmly touching the affected elbow, pain usually increases. Patients generally experience pins and needles or numbness in the elbow, forearm, hand or fingers. In some cases, an absence of pulses in the forearm, wrist or hand may be experienced involving damage to blood vessels and this is considered as an emergency. The patient will have to seek immediate medical assistance.


All elbow dislocations should be X-rayed to confirm diagnosis, assess the severity and rule out other injuries, particularly fractures. A thorough subjective and objective examination from a physiotherapist may be sufficient to diagnose a dislocated elbow. MRI, CT scan or bone scan may be required to assist the diagnosis and severity of the injury.


Physiotherapy and other appropriate rehabilitation treatments for a dislocated elbow can be quite crucial and beneficial. Undergoing physiotherapy can help the patient improve, strengthen and easily stretch his elbow muscles and joints. However, the various strengthening and stretching exercises should initially be performed under direct supervision of a professional physiotherapist.

Your physiotherapist will refrain you from performing activities which place large amounts of stress on the elbow such as lifting heavy weights, lying on the elbow, pushing or pulling activities. Once the patient can perform these activities without experiencing pain, a gradual return these activities is indicated provided there is no increase in symptoms. With proper guidance of a physiotherapist, this should take place over a period of weeks to months, depending on the severity of injury.

Physiotherapy can hasten the healing process, ensure an optimal outcome and reduce the likelihood of recurrence. Physiotherapy treatment may comprise:

  • elbow tapping
  • elbow bracing
  • soft tissue massage
  • electrotherapy (eg. ultrasound)
  • hydrotherapy
  • joint mobilization
  • anti-inflammatory advice
  • exercises to improve flexibility and strength

Elbow dislocations are extremely critical and painful. They should be assessed and treated as soon as possible. If proper care and treatment methods for elbow dislocations are not undertaken, then the patient may persistently experience elbow dislocations and which could develop severe conditions in future. Our professional physiotherapists in Edmonton are well-equipped with extensive training, experience, and knowledge. They can diagnose and help you perform activities which once seemed impossible.