Doctor's Notes on Dislocated Elbow (Slipped Elbow)
A dislocated elbow occurs when the bones of the forearm (the radius and ulna) become separated from the bone of the upper arm (the humerus). Injuries that can accompany elbow dislocation include broken bones (fractures), injuries to the arteries in the arm, and injuries to the nerves that run through the elbow area.Symptoms of dislocated elbow include severe pain in the elbow, swelling, and an inability to bend the arm. Other symptoms dislocated elbow may include loss of feeling in the hand or the inability to feel the pulse in the wrist. Nerves may also be injured when an elbow is dislocated and this may result in symptoms including abnormal sensations or inability of normal arm or hand functions below the elbow dislocation. Children can get an “elbow dislocation” (called nursemaid's elbow) of the forearm bones that is minor, and results from laxity of the elbow ligaments. A child with a nursemaid’s elbow will not bend their elbow because of pain and hold their arm slightly bent.
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Broken ElbowA broken elbow injury can be caused by a variety of factors. Falls, trauma, direct blow to the elbow, or direct injury to the elbow, wrist, hand, or shoulder. Symptoms of a broken elbow are swelling, deformity, bruising, discoloration, difficulty moving the elbow, numbness, cuts, wounds, and severe pain. Treatment for a broken elbow depends on the type of fracture.
Elbow PainElbow pain has many causes and risk factors, such as joint overuse and placing too much stress on the joint at any given time. Diagnosis may require X-rays, bone scans, MRIs, angiograms, and/or joint aspiration. Treatment of elbow pain depends upon the cause.
Fractures or DislocationsFractures are breaks in bone and are classified according to several different categories. Compound fractures are the most dangerous; the bone is broken into fragments that come through the skin. Treatment includes setting the broken bone and splinting the injury, among other steps. Steps are taken to prevent infection if the skin is broken.
Nursemaid's Elbow (in Children)Nursemaid elbow (or radial head subluxation) is a common injury in children. Causes of this injury include lifting the child by the hand or wrist, swinging the child by the hands or wrists, pulling arms through the sleeves of jackets, pulling a child along when in a hurry, and catching a child by the hand to prevent a fall. Symptoms include refusal to use the injured arm, crying in pain, holding the arm against the body in a slightly bent position. Acetaminophen or ibuprofen may be given for pain, and a bag of ice applied to the injury may also provide some relief. The doctor will need to perform a subluxation to move the bones back into place.
X-RaysX-Rays are a form of radiation used to image solid forms inside the body. X-rays are administered by radiologists for many different routine tests, such as mammograms, checking for broken bones, upper GI series, and dental exams, among others. Radiologists carefully monitor the X-ray equipment to make sure the patient receives the smallest dose of radiation possible.
Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.