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Joint Dislocation

Experiencing joint dislocation can be alarming. Find out the symptoms, causes, and when to seek emergency treatment for dislocated joints.

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What Is a Joint Dislocation?

Joint dislocations happen when the end of the bone connected to a joint moves out of place. It can occur in nearly any joint in the body. The injury causes severe pain. Other symptoms of joint locations include swelling or bruising. The joint may also look crooked and you may not be able to move it at all.

What are the types of dislocations?

A person can dislocate nearly any joint in the body, including the:

  • Shoulders
  • Knees
  • Jaw
  • Fingers and toes
  • Ankles
  • Hips
  • Elbows

What are the causes and risk factors of joint dislocation?

A dislocation can result from:

  • An injury
  • A fall
  • Being hit by something

People with weak muscles due to other diseases or health issues are more likely to suffer a joint dislocation.

Some people who have very stretchy ligaments often can dislocate a joint and put it back into place themselves, but this can be very dangerous.

Severe joint dislocations, in some cases, can cause long-term nerve damage within the affected limb.

Many times, it's obvious when a dislocation occurs because the body part attached to the joint will be out of place.

For example, if you dislocate your finger, it may look crooked.

Symptoms of a dislocation may include:

  • Swelling
  • Bruising
  • Numbness
  • Severe pain

Joint dislocations are emergency conditions. You should seek medical attention right away.

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How Do You Diagnose Joint Dislocation?

Your doctor will look at your injury and ask questions about how it occurred. Be sure to tell your doctor if you've suffered the same dislocation in the past.

You may need to have x-rays, especially if the injury happened during a fall or an accident. X-rays will allow your doctor to decide if the injury is a dislocation or something more serious.

More serious joint dislocations may cause the tendons and ligaments to stretch or tear. Your doctor may order an MRI to diagnose tissue damage around the joint.

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How Do You Treat Joint Dislocation?

Once your doctor has diagnosed you with a joint dislocation, he or she will need to push or pull the joint back into place. This can be painful.

Once your doctor returns the joint to its proper place, your pain will decrease.

You may need to wear a splint or a sling for a short time. This will keep you from using the joint and allow it to heal.

Your doctor may also suggest:

  • Anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen, for pain.
  • Ice packs on the joint to reduce any swelling.
  • Physical therapy to strengthen the area. Strengthening exercises will decrease the chances that the dislocation will happen again.

What should you expect after a dislocation?

You may feel sore for a while. Eventually, your joint should return to normal.

It's common to dislocate the same joint more easily after the first dislocation. The shoulder joint is especially at risk for re-occurrence.

If you continue to dislocate the same joint, surgery might be the best treatment option.

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