Elbow Dislocation Treatment & Management

Updated: Sep 26, 2017
  • Author: Mark E Halstead, MD; Chief Editor: Craig C Young, MD  more...
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Treatment

Acute Phase

Rehabilitation Program

Physical Therapy

Early ROM exercises in stable, reduced elbow dislocations has been shown to be associated with an improved outcome. However, immobilization of the affected elbow for longer than 3 weeks in patients following an elbow dislocation has been associated with loss of ROM compared with patients who start early ROM exercises. [14, 17]

A study by Iordens et al compared outcomes of early mobilization and plaster immobilization in patients with a simple elbow dislocation. The study found that patients in the early mobilization group recovered faster and returned to work earlier without increasing the complication rate. [18]

Medical Issues/Complications

Brachial artery disruption may be seen in any elbow dislocation and special attention should be made in open dislocations.

Ulnar nerve injury may occur in up to 15% of elbow dislocations. Perform an initial neurovascular assessment and frequent reassessments.

Median nerve injury is frequently seen in conjunction with brachial artery injuries because both of these structures are in close anatomic proximity. The median nerve function should always be assessed with a higher suspicion of injury if a brachial artery injury is known to exist. The median nerve may also be injured or entrapped during a reduction.

Associated fractures for elbow dislocation include those of the radial head or neck (5-10%), medial/lateral epicondyle avulsions (10%), those of the coronoid process (10%), and fractures of the distal radius, ulna, and proximal humerus (10%).

Compartment syndrome may develop in the forearm fascia or biceps tendon due to massive swelling, which may occur in an acute elbow dislocation. Compartment syndrome must be considered in the differential diagnosis in the presence of persistent patient pain, particularly when exacerbations of pain occur with passive finger and wrist extension of the dislocated arm.

Ectopic calcification, primarily around the collateral ligaments, is common after an elbow dislocation, provides no limitations and requires no intervention.

Myositis ossificans may also be seen if significant hemarthrosis developed with the elbow dislocation.

Surgical Intervention

Seek surgical intervention by an orthopedist if any signs of neurovascular compromise, associated fractures, or nonreducible dislocations are present.

Consultations

Obtain orthopedic consultation if any signs of neurovascular compromise, associated fractures, or nonreducible dislocations are present.

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Recovery Phase

Rehabilitation Program

Physical Therapy

Patients with limitations in ROM on follow-up evaluation may benefit from more aggressive physical therapy to regain loss of mobility.

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Maintenance Phase

Rehabilitation Program

Physical Therapy

Depending on the severity of the elbow dislocation, it may take several months for the elbow to fully heal. Muscle-strengthening activities, in addition to the ROM program, are important to improve endurance of the elbow. Incorporate sport-specific training as the athlete progresses through rehabilitation to ensure a safe return to his/her sport. [19]

Surgical Intervention

Surgical intervention may be needed for a functional flexion contracture or for chronic residual instability. [20, 21, 22]

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