Elbow dislocation

Last updated: December 27, 2022

Summarytoggle arrow icon

The elbow is the second most commonly dislocated joint after the shoulder. A fall on an outstretched hand is the usual mode of injury. Complex elbow dislocations have an associated fracture, while simple elbow dislocations do not. Clinical features include pain and swelling of the joint and an inability to flex/extend the elbow. Examination reveals a loss of the triangular orientation between the medial and lateral epicondyles of the humerus and the olecranon process of the ulna. X-rays of the elbow joint confirm a dislocation and may show a positive fat pad sign. Simple elbow dislocations can be managed conservatively with closed reduction and immobilization. Complex elbow dislocations require surgical intervention with open reduction and internal fixation. Complications of elbow dislocation include joint instability/contractures and heterotopic ossification.

Radial head subluxation (nursemaid elbow) is discussed in another article.

Epidemiologytoggle arrow icon


Epidemiological data refers to the US, unless otherwise specified.

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Complicationstoggle arrow icon

We list the most important complications. The selection is not exhaustive.

Referencestoggle arrow icon

  1. Layson J, Best BJ. Elbow Dislocation. StatPearls. 2021.
  2. Dislocations of the Elbow. Updated: June 28, 2016. Accessed: April 11, 2017.
  3. Slowik GM, Fitzimmons M, Rayhack JM. Closed elbow dislocation and brachial artery damage. J Orthop Trauma. 1993; 7 (6): p.558-561.
  4. Positive Fat Pad Sign: Elbow. Updated: April 11, 2017. Accessed: April 11, 2017.
  5. Williams GR Jr, Ramsey ML, Wiesel SW. Operative Techniques in Shoulder and Elbow Surgery. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins ; 2010

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