A dislocation is a separation of the end of a bone and the joint it meets. Bones that touch in the joints sometime separate when they are overstressed.

Injuries related to dislocations include damage to the membrane lining the joint as well as tears to nearby muscles and ligaments.


  • Injuries from contact sports or falls
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Inborn joint defects
  • Joints weakened by previous injury
  • Suddenly jerking a toddler’s hand or arm
  • Force applied in the wrong direction that snaps the ball of the upper arm bone out of the shoulder socket

The shoulders are especially prone to dislocation injuries. The elbow is a common site in toddlers. Fingers, hips, ankles, elbows, jaws, and even the spine can be dislocated as well. A dislocated vertebrae in the spine often damages the spinal cord and can paralyze body parts lower than the injury site.

Signs and Symptoms

A dislocated joint is:

  • Misshapen
  • Very painful
  • Swollen
  • Discolored

Sometimes it is hard to tell a dislocation from a broken bone. It is best to seek medical attention if you suspect a dislocation. It is unwise to try to put a dislocated bone back into its socket.

When treated professionally, you can usually expect the dislocated joint to function within 24 to 48 hours. Activity may need to be limited for the next 4 to 6 weeks, though, to give the injury enough time to heal.


  • Protect a previously injured joint by wrapping it with an elastic bandage or tape.
  • Wear protective pads (shoulder, wrist, knee, etc.) when taking part in contact sports or in other activities in which you may fall or otherwise get injured.

Questions to Ask

Is there an injury to the neck or spine?

Yes: Seek Emergency Care


Is there severe bleeding around the injury?
Yes: Seek Emergency Care

Are there any of these problems?

  • An area that is deformed
  • A limb that is pale, cold or numb
  • A limb that is very painful and/or swollen or one that can’t bear weight

Yes: Seek Emergency Care

Provide Self-Care

{Note: If you have answered NO to all of the above questions you probably do not have a dislocation. If you are not sure, consult your doctor.}

Self-Care Tips

{Note: All dislocations need medical attention. Seek help as soon as possible after the injury. The Self-Care Tips below list things you can do for a dislocation before and after you get medical care.}

  • Dislocations, like other joint injuries, are often best treated by R.I.C.E. (rest, ice, compression and elevation) during the first 2448 hours after the injury.

      R–Rest. Rest the injured area as much as possible.

      I–Ice. Ice the injured area as soon as possible. Immediately putting ice on the injury helps to speed recovery because it not only relieves pain but also slows blood flow, reducing internal bleeding and swelling.

      • Put ice cubes or crushed ice in a heavy plastic bag with a little water. You can also use a bag of frozen vegetables. Wrap the ice pack in a towel before placing it on the injured area.
      • Apply the ice pack to the injured area for 1020 minutes. Reapply it every two hours and for the next 48 hours during the times you are not sleeping.

      C–Compression. Apply a snug elastic bandage to the injured joint. Numbness, tingling, or increased pain means the bandage is too tight. Remove the bandage every 34 hours and leave off for 1520 minutes each time you do so.

      E–Elevation. Raise the injured body part above the level of the person’s heart. Place it on a pillow, folded blanket, or stack of newspapers.

  • Take an over-the-counter medicine to reduce inflammation and pain. Acetaminophen eases soreness but does not help with inflammation. {Note: See “Pain relievers” in “Your Home Pharmacy” on pages 22 and 23.}

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Written by American Institute for Preventive Medicine

Explore Wellness in 2021