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Elbow dislocation. Can you fully recover from a dislocated elbow?

dislocated elbow

We recently graduated one of our clients from therapy after a dislocated elbow injury.  

When he first came to us he knew that he had a dislocated elbow but he didn’t really know what that meant and how long the recovery was going to take.

What is a dislocated elbow?

A dislocated elbow is when the humerus (upper arm) bone is moved out of place of the ulna and radius (the two forearm bones).  

This can be sustained from a fall onto an outstretched arm, or an event where the arm is twisted in two opposite directions. 

After an injury like an elbow dislocation, some people put it back by themselves or go to urgent care and the doctors do what is called a “closed reduction” and put the elbow joint back together without the use of surgery.

Usually, you are immobilized in a splint or sling between 1-3 weeks depending on the severity of the injury.

Elbow joints are at risk for severe stiffness after an injury like dislocation and need to start moving as soon as it is deemed safe to move. 

It’s important to get started as soon as possible even if you are not sure it’s “ready” due to your pain. 

I highly recommend requesting to speak to one of our specialists.  Seek out an occupational therapist or certified hand therapist who is accustomed to treating these types of injuries on a daily basis.

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How serious is a dislocated elbow?

All joint dislocations are serious because of the injury to the specific tissues.  Ligaments hold bone to bone and allow your joints to move with stability.   

When you have a dislocation, the ligaments are disrupted.

When the ligaments are disrupted, it causes swelling and scarring to heal the area.  But with the healing process, the joints can become stiff, painful, and the muscles don’t have a chance to move in the way they are supposed to.  

Injury to the elbow affects all the surrounding tissues.

Therapy needs to start early in the elbow but it needs to start slowly, in a safe position, to maintain the stability of the elbow.

The stability at the elbow is essential for the wrist and hand to work properly and have strength without pain.  Not all dislocations require surgery but if you can not keep your stability at the elbow, surgery may be a consideration after therapy doesn’t not work.

The shoulder is an important aspect of how effective the arm can move.  When the elbow is injured, it’s common for the shoulder to start stiffening up, which can slow down the recovery of the elbow dislocation.

During the recovery phases, as certified hand therapists, we often look to minimize complications while helping our clients achieve the goals of the injury they came in for.  Areas we monitor are the shoulder, neck, wrist, and hand.

How long does a dislocated elbow take to recover?

Recovery after an elbow dislocation can vary from person to person. 

Not all injuries are created equal and neither is the person.

The key with getting the best possible results after an elbow dislocation is:

  1. When you get started.  

The joint needs to be stiff, but not too stiff so your start in therapy is essential to getting great results. 

  1. Gain motion slowly over time. 

Aggressive motions can disrupt the healing and create more complications. Patience is needed as well as consistent work with your therapy specialist to regain motion.

  1. Get end range motion then slowly progress to strengthening. 
  2. Respect your pain level.  

Dislocations are not a “no pain, no gain” type of injury.  Moving in a pain free range is ideal for a faster and full recovery. 

This is a progression that takes place in therapy, with expected progress from week to week.  In total, a good 3 month after the initial injury, usually the injured dislocated elbow can go back to full functional activities without fear.

Your plan, how fast or slow you go is determined with the specialist.

Patient Success Story – Meet Gianluca

Our young client is an active young man who injured his elbow in a mixed martial arts fight.  Our client who came in 2 weeks after the dislocation was determined to get full motion and feel 100% so he can get back to becoming an MMA fighter.

Gianluca currently works in construction but has dreams of becoming a big-time fighter. He loves being active, and sparring with his teammates, and his goal was to get to 100% so that he can feel confident in order to get back in the ring.

He worked weekly with his specialist, gaining motion slowly, and strengthening without pain.  

Most people give up therapy when they get close to their goal but he knew that in order to fully recover and not risk another injury, he needed to get to his end range of motion without pain.

And he did.  

While in the last few sessions with us, he went back to fighting and was able to see what was still bothering him so that we can get that last bit of discomfort and tell him exactly what he needed to do to keep all he had gained in therapy. 

If you have had an elbow injury, and are wondering what is possible after your injury, request a free discovery visit with our specialist. 

Written by Hoang Tran

About the author – Hoang Tran; an expert in physical & occupational therapy

Hoang Tran is a certified hand therapist , the owner of Hands-on Therapy Services and author of the book “The Hands-On Approach”. She loves helping people with hand, neck and shoulder problems because she knows how bad and debilitating they can get if not addressed and treated properly (once and for all!).

The aim of her Miami occupational therapy is to bring patients back to full functionality, without pills, injections or surgery. Occupational and Physical Therapy are both offered at Hands-On Therapy by our experienced therapists who provide a comprehensive approach to your care. 

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The material contained on this site is for informational purposes only and DOES NOT CONSTITUTE THE PROVIDING OF MEDICAL ADVICE, and is not intended to be a substitute for independent professional medical judgment, advice, diagnosis, or treatment.  Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your health.

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