Treatment and Healing After a Joint Dislocation

Joint Dislocations

A dislocation is an injury to a joint in which the ends of the bones are forced out of their normal positions. Joints are the areas of the body where two or more bones come together. This particular kind of injury temporarily immobilizes and deforms the joint and results in severe, sudden pain.

Dislocations can happen to your shoulder, hip, knee, elbow, ankle, finger, thumb, or toe. If you suspect you have a dislocated joint, seek prompt medical attention. The orthopedic specialist will have to return the joint to its normal alignment.

What do I do if I think I have a dislocated joint?

It is difficult to distinguish a dislocated bone from a broken bone. If you suspect you have a dislocation or a broken bone, there are things you can do while you are waiting to see the doctor. While you are waiting for medical attention:

  • Don’t move the joint. Sling or splint the affected area in its current position. Do not try to force the joint back into place. This could damage the bones, muscles, ligaments, nerves, and blood vessels.
  • Ice the injured area. Apply ice to the injured joint to reduce swelling, control pain, decrease the buildup of fluid, and stop internal bleeding.

What causes a dislocation?

The most common cause among young people is sports injuries. Dislocations can occur during contact sporting activities, such as hockey or football. They can also occur with falls during sports, such as gymnastics, volleyball, downhill skiing, or snowboarding. Basketball and football players frequently dislocated the joints of the fingers or hands when striking the ball or during a fall. Also, any fall or hard blow to a joint can result in a dislocation, such as a motor vehicle accident.

What are the complications of a joint dislocation?

There are many serious complications with a dislocated joint. These include:

  • Nerve or blood vessel damage
  • Tearing of ligaments, tendons, and muscles
  • Development of arthritis
  • Susceptibility to re-injury

How is a dislocated joint treated?

Besides ordering X-rays and MRIs, the treatment of your dislocation may include:

Reduction – This is the process where the orthopedic specialist gently maneuvers the joint to put the bones back into proper position. You will be given an anesthetic or pain reliever prior to this procedure.
Immobilization – Once the doctor has your bones back in the right place, he will immobilize your joint with a sling or split for several weeks. This is done to allow the area to heal and protect it from further injury. How long you will wear the device will depend on the severity of your injury.
Pain Medication – After the doctor does the reduction, your pain will subside. However, if your pain continues, you may be prescribed a mild pain reliever or muscle relaxant.
Surgery – If there is damage to the nerves or blood vessels or if the doctor cannot move your dislocated bones back into position, surgery may be necessary. The orthopedic specialist often recommends surgery if you have recurring dislocations.
Rehabilitation – Once your sling or splint is removed, you will begin a rehabilitation program to help restore your joint’s strength and range of motion. Most dislocations take several months to heal.

What can I do to help heal my dislocated joint?

There are several things you can do to help encourage healing and ease discomfort. These include:

Use ice and heat. Applying ice to your injured joint helps reduce pain and inflammation. You can use a cold pack or a towel filled with ice cubes for 20 minutes at a time. Do this every couple of hours while you are awake. Also, hot packs or a heating pad helps relax sore, tight muscles. Limit heat applications to 15 minutes at a time and do these every couple of hours.

Rest the joint. You don’t want to repeat the activity that caused the injury in the first place. Also, avoid painful movements of the injured joint.

Take a pain reliever. Use your pain medication as prescribed. The orthopedic specialist will suggest an anti-inflammatory agent, such as naproxen (Aleve) or ibuprofen (Motrin). Follow the label directions and stop using the drug when the pain improves.

Maintain the range of motion in your joint. After a few days, do some gently range of motion exercises approved by your doctor or physical therapist. This helps to restore strength to the joint and maintain range of motion.

What can I do to prevent future dislocations?

To prevent further or future dislocations:

Take precautions to avoid falls. Make sure your vision is good by getting your eyes checked. If you take medications that make you dizzy, avoid standing up too fast. Also, keep your home well-lit and remove tripping hazards from walkways.

Wear protective gear. If you play contact sports, wear devices that protect your joints.

Follow doctor’s orders. While you are recovering, follow your doctor’s orders. To avoid recurrence, do the recommended stability and strengthening exercises.