Instability and dislocation are the most common injuries of the elbow joint.

What is forearm dislocation?

The most common elbow joint injury is a dislocated forearm. After a dislocation, the elbow joint is often unstable. 1

At the moment of dislocation, the ligaments that stabilize the elbow joint are torn. Sometimes the joint capsule and muscles also rupture. The severity of the dislocation is determined by the displacement of the bones relative to each other. The greater the displacement, the more pronounced damage to the ligamentous apparatus has occurred.

The figure shows the right elbow joint, side view. The figure shows the ligamentous apparatus, which is damaged in case of dislocation.

In some cases, the dislocation is accompanied by a fracture of the bone or bones that form the elbow joint. This condition is called fracture-dislocation. 

Instability of the elbow joint

Instability means that the ligamentous apparatus is no longer able to maintain bone mobility within the physiological norm. Obviously, this negatively affects the ability to work. The instability causes pain and damage to the articular cartilage, which can lead to the premature development of arthrosis.

Causes of dislocations and instability

Dislocation of the forearm is caused by accidents in which the elbow joint is overloaded. Instability usually results from damage to the ligaments. It usually occurs acutely – after a dislocation or fracture. Almost every third dislocation of the forearm is the cause of the subsequent instability of the elbow joint. Instability can also result from elbow surgery.

Symptoms and signs: Pain and swelling

When dislocated, the joint takes on an unnatural configuration, and its mobility is sharply limited. Then there is a pronounced edema. The attempt to move is accompanied by severe pain. Often the pain also spreads to adjacent segments of the limb. Numbness and sensory disturbances below the level of the elbow can occur as a result of nerve nutrition or damage.

Risk Factors:
Avoid Frequent Overload

Frequently repetitive loads and/or overloads, for example, when playing sports, can lead to chronic injury to the ligaments, which ultimately leads to instability of the elbow joint. 

Prevention of damage to the elbow joint

Preventing damage to the elbow joint is difficult because it is almost impossible to predict accidental injury. People with congenital instability of the elbow joint or with habitual dislocation (a dislocation that occurs during normal movement without excessive effort) should follow an orthopedic regime aimed at reducing the likelihood of dislocation, including the use of orthoses.

Treating forearm dislocation and elbow instability

Contracture (permanent limitation of mobility) of the elbow joint develops rather quickly compared to other large joints. Therefore, early mobilization after a dislocated forearm is critical to maintaining elbow mobility. In this case, constant supervision by a doctor is very important.