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How do I Treat an Elbow Dislocation?

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  • Written By: Lori Kimble
  • Edited By: Angela B.
  • Last Modified Date: 02 November 2016
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An elbow dislocation is a painful injury that usually requires immediate attention to improve the odds of a complete recovery. The best way to treat an elbow dislocation is to try first to reduce the pain and swelling. Then, get to a doctor or hospital emergency room as soon as possible, and use post-treatment exercises to ensure the arm returns to full function.

This kind of injury is as serious as a broken bone, so it is not a good idea to treat an elbow dislocation on your own. The first step is to make the patient as comfortable as possible. This can be accomplished by elevating the injured elbow, making sure the patient is warm enough, and putting ice on the injury to reduce swelling. A child with an elbow dislocation may not want ice on the injury, so it may be easier to wrap the elbow in towels that have been soaked in cold water. Changing the towels often can help to ensure that they stay cool.

It is important not to give food or water to the victim before taking him for treatment. A physician may decide to treat an elbow dislocation with surgery and, if at all possible, it is a good idea to abstain from eating and drinking before anesthesia is administered. Wait until after a doctor has been consulted to administer pain medication, as well.

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Once steps have been taken to reduce the swelling and make the injured party comfortable, it is time to assess the extent of the injury. The more information a doctor is given about the injury, the more successfully he can treat the elbow dislocation. Feel for a pulse along the base of the wrist to make sure the artery hasn’t suffered damage. Another way to check for artery damage is to gently press on the fingertips. If they initially turn white and then quickly regain their color, blood is flowing naturally.

Check for nerve damage by slowly wagging the hand up and down. Touch the small finger and thumb together, and spread the fingers apart. If it is hard to make these motions or if they cause pain, the injury may have caused nerve damage.

Upon the victim's arrival at the emergency room, the doctor will treat the elbow dislocation by levering the elbow back into place. This process does hurt, so pain killers are usually administered. Once the dislocated elbow has been corrected, the doctor will usually take X-rays and place the arm in a splint. Sometimes a sling is used to keep the arm immobile during the healing process.

Follow-up care is necessary to ensure a return to complete arm function. Keep the arm still. Elevate the splinted elbow whenever possible. Take any medication that the doctor prescribes or recommends. Once the sling is removed, gentle exercises can be completed to stretch the arm's range of motion and to ensure stiffness doesn’t set in.

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