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Dislocated elbow: Overview

Your elbow may get forced out of its normal position (dislocated) if you fall on it or jar it hard. An elbow that is dislocated causes pain from the elbow to the hand. The doctor put your elbow back in its normal position. But you will still need to be careful, as it can more easily go out of position again.

Rest and home treatment can help you heal. Your doctor probably put a splint on your elbow to keep it in position while it heals. The doctor may advise physical therapy to help you exercise your elbow and keep it flexible. If you injured muscles or tendons, you may need more treatment or surgery.

You may have had a sedative to help you relax. You may be unsteady after having sedation. It can take a few hours for the medicine's effects to wear off. Common side effects of sedation include nausea, vomiting, and feeling sleepy or tired.

The doctor has checked you carefully, but problems can develop later. If you notice any problems or new symptoms, get medical treatment right away.

How can you care for a dislocated elbow?

  • If the doctor gave you a sedative:
    • For 24 hours, don't do anything that requires attention to detail. This includes going to work, making important decisions, or signing any legal documents. It takes time for the medicine's effects to completely wear off.
    • Don't drive or operate any machinery for at least 24 hours. Wait until the medicine wears off and you can think clearly and react easily.
  • If your doctor put a splint on your elbow, wear the splint as directed. Do not remove it until your doctor says you can. While wearing a splint, wiggle your uninjured fingers, make a fist, or squeeze a soft ball to reduce swelling and stiffness.
  • If you have an elastic bandage, make sure it is snug but not so tight that your arm gets numb or tingles. You can loosen the bandage if it is too tight or your hand swells.
  • Put ice or a cold pack on your elbow for 10 to 20 minutes at a time. Try to do this every 1 to 2 hours for the next 3 days (when you are awake). Put a thin cloth between the ice and your skin.
  • Prop up your elbow on a pillow when you ice it or anytime you sit or lie down during the next 3 days. Try to keep it above the level of your heart. This will help reduce swelling.
  • Rest your arm as much as you can. You may need to change your activities to avoid movements that irritate the elbow.
  • Take your medicines exactly as prescribed. Call your doctor if you think you are having a problem with your medicine.
  • Ask your doctor if you can take an over-the-counter pain medicine, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or naproxen (Aleve). Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
  • If your doctor recommends exercises, do them as directed.

Dislocated elbow in children: When to call

Call 911 anytime you think your child may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • Your child has trouble breathing. Symptoms may include:
    • Using the belly muscles to breathe.
    • The chest sinking in or the nostrils flaring when your child struggles to breathe.
  • Your child is very sleepy and you have trouble waking them.
  • Your child passes out (loses consciousness).

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • Your child has new or worse nausea or vomiting.
  • Your child has new or worse pain.
  • Your child's hand or fingers are cool or pale or change color.
  • Your child's cast or splint feels too tight.
  • Your child has tingling, weakness, or numbness in a hand or fingers.

Watch closely for changes in your child's health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • Your child has problems with the cast or splint.
  • Your child does not get better as expected.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.