What is a dislocated joint?

A dislocation happens when extreme force is put on a ligament, which causes the ends of two connected bones to separate. By far, the most common type of joint dislocation is a shoulder dislocation, where the arm bone comes out of place the shoulder socket. However, it’s possible to dislocate the joints in other areas of your body too, such as fingers, hips, knees, toes or elbows.

All dislocations require immediate medical attention. Fractures can occur with dislocations, and they may also affect the surrounding muscles, blood vessels or nerves. If you or a loved one may have dislocated a joint, you should seek urgent care from an orthopedic specialist or go to your nearest emergency room.

Symptoms of a joint dislocation

Especially if you are at risk for a dislocated joint, it’s important to know the signs and symptoms of the condition so that you can get the care you need.

Risk factors for joint dislocation

Many dislocated joints are the result of orthopedic trauma, including a hit during sports, a fall, a car accident or other accidents. After you dislocate a joint, you have a higher risk of experiencing the condition again in the future.

Some factors that may put you more at risk for a joint dislocation include:

  • Anyone who plays a contact sport
  • People older than 65, especially those at risk for falls
  • Health conditions that affect the connective tissues in your joints, including Ehlers-Danlos syndrome

Dislocated joint treatment

The initial treatment for a joint dislocation is RICE (rest, ice, compression and elevation), and some joint dislocations may go back into place by themselves with this care. However, for those dislocations that do not go back into place, you will need treatment to put the joint back into its proper position so it will heal.

Your care provider may use manipulation to move the bone back into place, while other joint dislocations may need surgery. Do not try to move a dislocated joint back into place on your own. This should only be done by a trained medical professional.

Preventing joint dislocation

While many dislocated joints happen as the result of an accident, there are some steps you can take to reduce your risk of joint dislocation or protect your joint after a dislocation. If you’ve recovered from a joint dislocation, talk with your doctor about ways you can prevent it from reoccurring.

Steps to prevent a joint dislocation include:

  • Remove fall hazards from the home
  • Always wear protective equipment designed for your sport
  • Listen to your body and take time for rest after exercise or other activities
  • Strengthen the muscles around your joint through exercise or physical therapy
  • Always warm up and stretch before you play a sport or exercise