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Elbow Dislocation


Elbow dislocation is the most common dislocation in children; in adults, it is the second most common dislocation after that of the shoulder.
The elbow is amazingly stable, relying more on bony anatomy configuration for stability rather than ligaments. Considerable force is necessary to dislocate the elbow; sports activities account for up to 50% of elbow dislocations, and this type of injury is more commonly seen in adolescent and young adult populations (see the image below).

Posterior and lateral dislocation of the left elbo

Posterior and lateral dislocation of the left elbow in a soccer goalie. A small avulsion fracture of the olecranon is present.

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Posterior elbow dislocations comprise over 90% of elbow injuries. Early recognition of this injury is required due to the need for early reduction, given a higher likelihood for poor function and possible neurovascular compromise with delays in reduction.
Associated fractures are not infrequent with elbow dislocations, given the force that is required to dislocate the elbow.

Anterior dislocations are seen much less commonly than posterior dislocations. Divergent dislocations, which result in the ulna and radius dislocating in opposite directions, are even more rare. In the pediatric population, radial head subluxation is the main cause of elbow dislocations.

For excellent patient education resources, visit eMedicineHealth’s First Aid and Injuries Center. Also, see eMedicineHealth’s patient education articles Elbow Dislocation and Broken Elbow.

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