Simple dislocations of the elbow: evaluation and treatment

Hand Clin. 2004 Nov;20(4):389-404. doi: 10.1016/j.hcl.2004.07.002.


Simple dislocations of the elbow or dislocations occurring without an associated fracture are common injuries. Evaluation of these injuries must include an assessment of the entire involved upper extremity and a complete neurovascular examination. Principles of management include a prompt, controlled reduction, a determination of postreduction stability, and an immediate rehabilitation protocol that considers the stability of the joint following reduction. For those joints that are stable throughout the arc of motion, an unrestricted range of motion protocol can be started. When instability is present after reduction, the degree of instability determines the need for dynamic bracing, ligament repair or reconstruction, or the need for a hinged external fixator. The long-term results of these injuries are generally good, with nonoperative treatment producing equivalent or better results than operative treatment. Residual flexion contracture is the most common complication and can be diminished with the use of early range of motion. Other common complications include residual pain and heterotopic ossification, whereas recurrent instability occurs infrequently. Chronic dislocations of the elbow occur uncommonly in North America and Western Europe, but when they occur, reason-able results can be achieved with open reduction of the joint and the use of a hinged external fixator within I year following the dislocation.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms
  • Chronic Disease
  • Elbow Joint / injuries*
  • Elbow Joint / pathology
  • Humans
  • Joint Dislocations / complications
  • Joint Dislocations / diagnosis*
  • Joint Dislocations / therapy*