Elbow dislocations are unusual injuries in which the bones forming the elbow joint are traumatically separated.
These injuries usually require patients to go to the emergency room to have the elbow reduced (put back in place). After reduction, the arm is placed in a long arm splint and an arm sling. The elbow joint is unusual in that is functions almost purely as a hinge joint and it is normally tightly constrained by the ligaments surrounding the joint. When the elbow dislocates, some or all of the constraining ligaments are damaged. In the worst case, several of the ligaments completely rupture and the elbow remains unstable even in a cast. In evaluating patients with elbow dislocations the initial concern is to determine if the ligaments are partially or completely ruptured and how stable the joint is in a splint or cast. X-rays are helpful to assess the alignment of the joint and a CT scan or an MRI may be necessary to fully assess the injury. In uncomplicated cases, patients remain in a long arm cast or splint for about 2 weeks and then transition to a hinged elbow brace. The most common complication of dislocation long term is joint stiffness and an inability to fully straighten (extend) the elbow.