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What to Do About a Dislocated Joint

What to Do About a Dislocated Joint

A dislocated joint occurs when something — usually a traumatic impact — forces the ends of the bones within your joint out of position. A dislocation injury can affect any joint in your body, but shoulder and finger joints are more vulnerable to this painful problem.

Whether it’s the result of an accidental fall, a sports mishap, a work-related injury, or a car crash, a dislocated joint is a medical emergency that requires immediate urgent care. 

When you sustain a serious, non-life-threatening injury like a joint dislocation, you don’t need an appointment to see our team at American River Urgent Care in Orangevale, California: We offer as-needed urgent care for patients of all ages, every day of the week. 

Explore the common causes and symptoms of a dislocated joint, and learn what kind of first aid you should administer when you’re en route to our walk-in clinic

How does a joint become dislocated?

Joint dislocation occurs when the ends of the bones that meet within a joint are pushed out of place or separated. A joint can be fully dislocated or only partially dislocated (subluxation). 

Although any joint can become dislocated, certain joints are more vulnerable to the problem. The most common dislocation site for adults is the shoulder; for kids, it’s the elbow. Other joints that are prone to dislocation (in order of susceptibility) include:

Most joint dislocations are a result of a forceful blow to the joint that knocks its bones out of position. Vehicle collisions, traumatic falls, contact sports mishaps, and workplace accidents are common causes of joint dislocation injuries.

Joint dislocation can also occur less dramatically — or without the presence of an external force — during regular activities. This type of dislocation happens when joint-stabilizing muscles and tendons become too weak to hold the bones together in the joint. Older adults are more likely to experience a non-traumatic joint dislocation. 

Joint dislocation signs and symptoms

Given that most joint dislocations are traumatic injuries caused by sudden force, they typically trigger immediate, intense joint pain. Other signs and symptoms of a dislocation include:

In short, most dislocated joints are very painful, significantly swollen, and visibly out of place. You may not be able to move it, but if joint motion is possible, you should avoid it. 

What should I do for a dislocated joint?

If you think you, your child, or another person has dislocated a joint, it’s important to seek immediate professional care. A dislocated joint is a medical emergency that demands prompt attention and treatment. 

There are a few things you can do to protect your joint when you’re on your way to our office — or when you’re en route to the nearest after-hours emergency room. Instant first aid for a dislocation includes:

Keeping the joint stable

The most important thing you can do to protect a dislocated joint is keeping it still and stable, or immobilized. No matter what you’ve seen in the movies, do not attempt to force the bones back in place; doing so can easily damage the joint and its surrounding muscles, ligaments, nerves, and blood vessels. 

If you have a strip of cloth and a piece of rigid material, you can gently splint the affected joint in its fixed position. This helps it remain immobile until you reach our clinic. If you don’t have splinting materials or feel comfortable splinting the joint, just keep it as still as possible.

Reducing inflammation

Ice the area to reduce swelling and pain — and to control internal bleeding and the buildup of fluids in and around the injured joint. Apply an ice pack, bag of ice, or even a bag of frozen peas covered in a dry, clean cloth to the area, and if you can, keep it there until you get to our office.

Easing immediate pain

If it’s available, feel free to take acetaminophen or ibuprofen to ease your pain. Once you reach our office, our team may give you a sedative or a local anesthetic to help the muscles around your injured joint relax so we can gently and carefully reposition your joint back in place. 

If you’re injured, our team at American River Urgent Care can help. Call 916-287-8569 or click online to schedule a same-day visit at your convenience, or stop in any time during our normal business hours.

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