Joint Dislocations

By:    Published: December 6, 2012

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Joint dislocations can occur in any of the major joints such as the shoulders, elbows, hips, knees and ankles. Dislocations can also occur in the minor joints of the fingers and toes. If proper treatment is received after experiencing a joint location, there is a high chance of recovery and returning to normal function after several weeks. Certain joint dislocations have an increased chance of reoccurring, such as dislocated shoulder joints.

Definition

Joint dislocations are injuries where the connection of two or more bones occurs. When a dislocation occurs, the ends of the bones, at the place where they meet one another, are pushed out of their normal position. When this type of joint injury occurs, the result is a deformation of the joint, which causes the joint to become immobile. Although it can cause sudden pain that may be severe, it is only a temporary condition.

Symptoms

The most common symptom of a joint dislocation is pain that occurs after an injury. Other common symptoms associated with joint dislocation include:

  • Joint appears out of place
  • Joint is swollen
  • Joint is discolored
  • Joint is immovable
  • Intense pain in the joint and/or surrounding area
  • Tingling near the injury
  • Numbness near the injury

Symptoms of a dislocated joint are similar to symptoms of a broken bone. It is important to visit a doctor to determine which type of injury is present if symptoms develop.

Causes

Dislocated joints are caused by injury to the joints. The most common type of injuries responsible for dislocated joints are sports-related injuries. Contact sports, such as football and hockey, commonly cause joint dislocations, as do sports that involve potential falls, such as gymnastics and volleyball. It is not uncommon for football players and basketball players to accidentally strike the ball, another player or the ground during a play, which can cause a dislocated joint.

Other injuries that are non-sport related, such as car accidents, slips, trips and falls can also cause joint dislocations.

Risk Factors

Certain conditions increase the risk for suffering from joint dislocation. Risk factors for dislocated joints include:

  • Having an increased susceptibility to falling. Individuals who are more susceptible to falling, such as those who are disabled, have an increased risk of suffering from a fall-related joint dislocation. Non-disable individuals who are clumsy or have poor balance are also at risk.
  • Being an athlete or very active. Sports injuries are the most common cause for joint dislocation. Participating in a sport significantly increases the risk of joint dislocation. The risk is even higher for high-impact or contact sports.
  • Being in a car accident. Next to sports injuries, car accidents are the most common cause of joint dislocations. Car accidents are responsible for the majority of hip dislocations that occur. The risk can be significantly decreased by wearing a seatbelt at all times.
  • Heredity. Certain individuals are born with looser ligaments that make them more susceptible to injuries such as joint dislocations.

Diagnostic Tests

A doctor will evaluate your condition and physically examine your injury. If he suspects a joint dislocation or a break in the bone, he will likely perform an x-ray of the joint to confirm the diagnosis. If your doctor suspects that you may have additional damage to the soft tissues surrounding the injured joint, an MRI may also be ordered.

Treatment Options

The type of treatment that is required for joint dislocation depends on which joint is dislocated and how severe the injury is. For most joint dislocations, your doctor will first attempt to gently manipulate the bones to guide them back into their normal position. If pain and swelling is moderate to severe, your doctor may administer a local anesthetic prior to maneuvering the joint. Once the bones have been returned to normal positioning, your doctor will likely apply a splint or sling to immobilize the joint for several weeks. Pain medication may be prescribed.

If there is nerve damage or damage to blood vessels, surgery may be required. You may also require surgery if pain continues, if the bones cannot be manipulated back into their normal position or if repeat dislocations have occurred.

Home Remedies

To help speed healing and reduce pain caused by a joint dislocation, there are simple steps that can be taken at home. Home care remedies include:

  • Resting the affected joint
  • Avoiding painful movements
  • Applying ice to reduce inflammation in the first few days
  • Applying heat to relax tight muscles near the joint after swelling has decreased
  • Taking an over the counter pain reliever
  • Performing gentle exercises to maintain normal range of motion in the affected joint

Possible Complications

The majority of joint dislocations will heal with no complications. Complications that may occur with a joint dislocation include:

  • Tearing of the soft tissues
  • Nerve damage
  • Blood vessel damage
  • Repeat dislocation if injury is severe
  • Arthritis

Considerations

While waiting to be evaluated by your doctor, it is important to take precautionary measures to prevent increased injury to the joint. Refrain from moving the joint. Do not attempt to force it back into place, which can lead to additional damage to the joint and damage to the surrounding soft tissues. Apply ice to the injured joint to reduce swelling and pain.

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