The joint of your elbow is made up of three bones: the humerus, the radius and the ulna. These bones are held together by connective tissue, and these ligaments (in combination with the muscles of your arm) help hold the bones in place. If you fall and catch yourself with your hand, such as in sports that put you at risk of falling like ice skating and gymnastics, you could knock these bones out of alignment. This condition is known as an elbow dislocation.
Common symptoms of a dislocated elbow include intense pain in the elbow and possibly the inability to move the arm. The elbow also usually looks oddly twisted or deformed, due to the movement of the bones.
If you think you’ve dislocated your elbow, consult a doctor immediately. Depending on the severity of the dislocation, it could be a medical emergency. That’s because when the bones that make up the elbow move, they can disrupt the nerves and blood vessels that run through that area. If circulation to your arm is disrupted, it can cause permanent damage that may even require amputation.
Your sports medicine specialist will take an X-ray to determine the extent of the dislocation, and he or she likely also will ask you to move your arm and hand to evaluate whether or not you have circulatory or nerve damage to the arm, hand or elbow.
One way to treat a dislocated elbow is to physically push the bones back into their normal places. But if the injury is too serious for this method to be effective, surgery is necessary to repair ligaments and put bones back where they belong. Further surgery also might be necessary to repair damaged blood vessels and nerves.
After your arm bones have been returned to their normal orientation, physical therapy or rehabilitation exercises might be necessary to help you regain movement in the arm.