What are hand, wrist or elbow dislocations?

Hand dislocations occur when one of the eight carpal bones (bones located at the base of the hand) fall out of the joint to cause a hand dislocation. The capitate (largest bone in the hand) or lunate bones are the bones that most frequently dislocate.

Wrist dislocations occur when one of the eight bones of the wrist fall out of socket due to a fall.

Elbow dislocations occur when the joints of the elbows somehow separate. In a partial elbow dislocation, the joint surfaces are not completely separated (also known as subluxation), while in a complete dislocation, the joint surfaces are completely dislocated.

Causes of hand, wrist or elbow dislocations

  • Hand dislocations typically occur when direct, intense force is applied to the wrist and the hand is bent backward.
  • High impact sports such as basketball and football are common causes of hand, wrist or elbow dislocations – football and basketball players can dislocate finger joints when striking the ball, the ground or another player.
  • A hard blow to the joint, for example in a car accident, could cause a hand, wrist or elbow dislocation.

Risk factors of hand, wrist or elbow dislocations

Risk factors of hand, wrist or elbow dislocations are:
  • Participating in high impact, extreme sporting activities, such as football and hockey can put people at higher risk for a hand, wrist or elbow dislocation
  • Sports where falls are common, such as volleyball, gymnastics and downhill skiing put people at a higher risk of hand, wrist or elbow dislocations
  • Some people are born with ligaments and joints that are more prone to injury
  • Patients who are more susceptible to falls (such as the elderly) are at a higher risk for hand, wrist or elbow dislocations

Symptoms of hand, wrist or elbow dislocations

Symptoms of hand, wrist or elbow dislocations include:
  • Visible deformities in the hand, wrist or elbow after trauma
  • Inability to move your hand, wrist or elbow
  • Severe pain in the affected area
  • Swelling in the hands, wrists or elbow
  • Misshaped appearance of the hand, wrist or elbow
  • Numbness

Diagnosis of a hand, wrist or elbow dislocation

If you suspect you have a hand, wrist or elbow dislocation, visit the ER right away. It is crucial to treat a hand, wrist or elbow dislocation right away to avoid developing arthritis or death of bone tissue. When possible, ice the joint and keep it immobile while waiting to see the physician.

Hand, wrist or elbow dislocations are diagnosed in a physical exam and with an x-ray, MRI or CT scan to evaluate the extent of the injury and determine the best course of treatment.

Treatments for hand, wrist or elbow dislocations

Wrist dislocations typically require surgery by a hand or wrist orthopedic surgeon .

The hand surgeon will place the bones back into the correct location as well as repair the ligaments and soft tissue surrounding the injury during the procedure.

After the procedure, the wrist will be immobilized in a cast for eight weeks to ensure proper healing.

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