What Is a Dislocation?
A dislocation is a musculoskeletal joint injury in which the bones that make up your joint are forced out of their usual position. This occurs when an external force pushes your bones out of place.
Subluxation vs. Dislocation
In a dislocation, the bones have popped out of place so much that you need to apply external force to put them back into their correct position. In a subluxation, your joint pops out of position slightly and then moves back into proper alignment on its own.
Types of Dislocations
There are two types of dislocations:
- Closed dislocations occur when the joint moves out of place and doesn’t break through the skin.
- Open dislocations occur when the joint moves out of place and breaks through the skin.
An open dislocation is a medical emergency that usually requires surgery to treat. If you have an open dislocation, call 911 or go to your nearest emergency department right away.
You can often tell that you have a dislocation just by looking at it. Finger and shoulder dislocations look like the joint points in the wrong direction. Other symptoms you'll usually experience are the following:
- Lack of mobility
Why Choose University of Utah Health?
At U of U Health, you have access to some of the most experienced orthopedic specialists in the Mountain West region. The University Orthopaedic Center is led by nationally and internationally recognized experts who research new treatments and present our findings at international meetings. Our highly specialized team provides world-class, accessible treatment for even the most complex cases.
When to Seek Treatment
You should always seek orthopedic care to treat a dislocation, even if you’ve experienced a subluxation or moved the joint back into position yourself. Sometimes, a dislocation can damage surrounding bone and a small piece of bone may break off and fall into your joint. This can delay healing or lead to chronic instability. You should see an orthopedic specialist within a week or less for mild injuries, such as a finger dislocation that you’ve repositioned on your own.
More severe dislocations of bigger joints should be treated within 12 to 24 hours. Open dislocations or dislocations of a large joint, such as a knee, hip, or shoulder, that you cannot move back into position should be treated at the emergency department right away.
Visit Our Orthopaedic Injury Clinic
If you are unsure about the extent of your dislocation, please visit our Orthopaedic Injury Clinic. Please keep in mind that our clinic does not treat open dislocations. Our orthopedic specialists will quickly assess your condition and determine the next steps in your care.
Schedule a visit with our clinic if you meet the following requirements:
- Your pain lasts more than 1-2 weeks.
- You suffer from frequent shoulder subluxation (shoulder joint moves partially in and out of your socket) that lasts more than 4-6 weeks.
You can usually point to one incident that caused a dislocation, such as a sports injury or a fall. People who are most likely to experience a dislocation injury may be one of the following:
- Children and adolescents
- People who play contact sports
- People with collagen disorders such as Marfan’s syndrome or Ehlers-Danlos syndrome
The first step in dislocation treatment is to put the joint back in its correct position (reduction). An orthopedic specialist can perform a reduction in their office. After reducing the joint, you may need other treatments:
- Braces or splints to keep the joint in position
- Physical therapy to increase strength, mobility, and function
- Surgery for broken fragments of bone in the joint, damage to the soft tissues around the joint, or open dislocations
First Aid Treatment for a Dislocation
You may try to pop the joint back into its correct position on your own. For a shoulder dislocation, you can try a self-reduction by interlacing your fingers around your knee and leaning back into your shoulder.
But if you can’t reduce the joint right away, the most important thing is to immobilize it with a brace or sling. Ice the injury and head to an orthopedic specialist or the emergency department right away.
Dislocation recovery timelines can vary depending on which joint you injured. Shoulder dislocations usually heal within three to four months. Healing from a finger or knee dislocation can take one to three months. Physical therapy can speed your healing and decrease pain.