Dislocated Joint

Displacement of the bones in joints, usually as a result of injury

  • More common in males
  • Sometimes runs in families
  • Playing contact sports, such as rugby, is a risk factor
  • Age is not a significant factor

A dislocated joint occurs when a bone has been displaced from its normal position. As a result of pain and the dislocation itself, movement of the joint is severely restricted. The ligaments that hold the bones in place are often torn during the process of dislocation (see Ligament injuries), and the capsule that surrounds the joint may be damaged. Sometimes the bones within the joint also fracture. Shoulder and finger joints are particularly susceptible to dislocation.

What are the causes?

Any powerful force acting against a joint may cause a dislocation. Contact sports, such as rugby, and heavy falls are common causes in men. Abnormally loose joints that are susceptible to dislocation may be an inherited condition. Dislocation may also be associated with a joint disorder, such as rheumatoid arthritis. Dislocation of the hip may be present from birth (see Developmental dysplasia of the hip).

What are the symptoms?

If you dislocate a joint, the symptoms will appear suddenly and may include:

  • Severe pain in the affected area.

  • Deformity of the joint.

  • Swelling around the joint.

  • Bruising of the skin around the joint.

Displaced bones may cause damage to nearby nerves, tendons, and blood vessels, resulting in reduced circulation in tissues beyond the affected area.

If you think that you may have dislocated a joint, you should consult a doctor promptly. If a back injury causes dislocation of the vertebrae (bones of the spine), there may be damage to the spinal cord and consequent paralysis.

What might be done?

Diagnosis of a dislocated joint is usually obvious from the symptoms and a physical examination. However, you may have an X-ray to confirm the dislocation and to check for a fracture. Dislocated joints can usually be manipulated back into position by a doctor. You may be given a painkiller to relieve discomfort or, in some cases, a sedative to relieve muscle spasm while the joint is being manipulated. If manipulation is unsuccessful, you may need surgery to reposition the joint.

After treatment, the affected joint may be immobilized for 3–6 weeks and you may need physiotherapy to help you start to use the joint again. There may be an increased risk that the joint will dislocate again. Joints that dislocate repeatedly may require surgical treatment to stabilize them.

From the 2010 revision of the Complete Home Medical Guide © Dorling Kindersley Limited.

The subjects, conditions and treatments covered in this encyclopaedia are for information only and may not be covered by your insurance product should you make a claim.

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