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Dislocations (Shoulder, Jaw, Elbow, Finger)

A joint is the place where your bones come together. Normally, bones glide smoothly within your joints, allowing a wide range of motion. But a bone can be pushed or pulled out of position. This is known as a dislocation. Dislocation prevents normal joint movement and can be very painful. Prompt treatment is crucial.

X-ray of dislocated shoulder with bones highlighted in white.
An X-ray of a dislocated shoulder joint.

Causes of Dislocations

Dislocations can happen to almost any joint. But they're most common in the shoulder, jaw, elbow, and finger. Dislocated elbows occur most often in children. Many dislocations result from trauma, such as a blow or fall. But some can happen during normal activities. You can dislocate your jaw just by yawning or laughing. And a shoulder can dislocate during the act of throwing a ball.

When to Go to the Emergency Room (ER)

A dislocation needs emergency care. Injuries that aren`t treated promptly take longer to heal and may result in lasting damage to the joint. Seek medical help right away if you:

  • Have severe pain in a joint.

  • Can't move the joint normally.

  • Can see the misplaced bone.

  • Have numbness or tingling.

  • Have a break in the skin over the painful joint.

To help reduce swelling and pain due to a dislocation:

  • Apply ice to the joint (keep a thin cloth between the ice and your skin).

  • Raise the injured area above heart level if you can.

What to Expect in the ER

  • You will be given pain medication to make you more comfortable.

  • The joint will be examined and an x-ray may be taken to check for fractures or other injuries.

  • The joint is put back into place.

  • A dislocated finger or elbow may be splinted to keep it from moving while it heals. An injured shoulder may be placed in a sling.

  • A second x-ray may be done before you leave the hospital.

  • In some cases, you may be referred to a bone specialist (orthopaedist). He or she will make sure you heal properly.

Online Medical Reviewer: Bechtold, C Dustin, MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Mitchell, Bryan Sean, MD
Date Last Reviewed: 10/31/2011
© 2000-2014 Krames StayWell, 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.