A joint dislocation means the end of one of your bones has been forced out of its proper position. This injury occurs where two bones meet at a joint. And when a bone is thrust out of its normal position, surrounding ligaments, nerves and blood vessels can be damaged as well.
The joints prone to dislocation are shoulders (most common), elbow, knees, hips, ankles, jaw, fingers and toes. A dislocated joint is typically caused by a sudden impact, for instance from a fall or hit while participating in an activity. This sports injury is relatively common for those participating in football, hockey, skiing and gymnastics.
In some cases it might be difficult to distinguish between a dislocated joint or broken bone because most of the symptoms are similar. Joint dislocation symptoms may include:
- intense pain
- joint swelling
- limited movement
- visibly out of place
- bruising, discoloration
- tingling, numbness at joint or beyond
Your symptom of pain from a joint that’s dislocated will significantly increase should you try to use it or put weight on it. And a severely dislocated joint puts you at a higher risk for dislocating it again and developing arthritis with age.
If you think you’ve dislocated a joint, seek health care attention right away to have your out of place bone returned to its appropriate position. While you wait don’t move the joint and apply ice to minimize pain and swelling. And forcing it back into place yourself is not recommended because you could cause additional muscle, ligament, nerve and blood vessel damage. Leave it for a professional to gently manipulate it back into place.
Closed reduction is usually the initial treatment for most dislocated joints. Essentially this entails maneuvering the bone back into position, possibly with the assistance of a muscle relaxant or sedative. Once in place, any severe joint pain should immediately diminish.
After your joint is no longer dislocated, treatment focuses on comfort and immobilization for a couple of days. Taking a OTC pain reliever and anti inflammatory, such as ibuprofen, naproxen or acetaminophen, can help with residual pain and inflammation. A splint, sling or wrapping the joint will likely be recommended for a period of time. Rarely is surgery necessary to repair surrounding tissue.
After a period of inactivity your joint may stiffen, so range of motion exercises may be advised after healing. How soon afterwards really depends on the extent of your injury. Your health care provider is the best one to indicate when the injured joint needs to get moving again.