First Aid for Dislocations

A dislocation is a separation of the end of a bone and the joint it meets. Bones that touch in the joints sometimes separate when they are overstressed.

Injuries related to dislocations include damage to the membrane lining the joint as well as tears to nearby muscles and ligaments.

Causes of dislocations include:

  * Injuries from contact sports
  * Rheumatoid arthritis
  * Inborn joint defects
  * Joints weakened by previous injury
  * Suddenly jerking a toddler’s hand or arm. (Force applied in the wrong direction can snap the ball of the upper arm bone out of the shoulder socket.)

The shoulders are especially prone to dislocation injuries. Fingers, hips, ankles, elbows, jaws and even the spine can be dislocated as well. A dislocated vertebrae in the spine often damages the spinal cord and can paralyze body parts lower than the injury site.

Signs and Symptoms

A dislocated joint is:

  * Misshapen
  * Very painful
  * Swollen
  * Discolored

Sometimes it is hard to tell a dislocation from a broken bone. It is best to seek medical attention if you suspect a dislocation. It is unwise to try to put a dislocated bone back into its socket.

When treated professionally, you can expect the dislocated joint to function within 24 to 48 hours. Activity may need to be limited for the next four to six weeks, though, to give the injury enough time to heal.


  * Protect a previously injured joint by wrapping it with an elastic bandage or tape.
  * Wear protective pads (shoulder, wrist, knee, etc.) when taking part in contact sports or in other activities in which you may fall or otherwise get injured.

Provided by ArmMed Media
Revision date: July 4, 2011
Last revised: by Jorge P. Ribeiro, MD