What to Do After a Dislocation

What to Do After a Dislocation

With enough force, you can dislocate any joint in your body, but the ones that tend to slip out of place most often are those that give you the most mobility. 

For example, your hips and shoulders have ball-and-socket joints that allow them to move in multiple directions. This flexibility, however, makes them vulnerable to displacement.

At Tuscaloosa Orthopedic & Joint Institute in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, Dr. Bryan King and our team see joint dislocations often, but for most people a dislocated joint is a once-in-a-lifetime trauma. Here’s how to recognize the signs of a joint dislocation and the steps you should follow immediately after your injury.

Signs of a joint dislocation

When a joint becomes dislocated, the ends of your bones shift out of position and can no longer function normally. The force can also damage the soft tissues in the joint by stretching or tearing ligaments, muscles, and tendons. Further, you may also have internal bleeding, which causes swelling and discoloration.

Car accidents, falls, and contact sports can lead to all kinds of damage, so how do you know if you’ve dislocated a joint? Here are some telltale signs:

It’s also possible for a joint to only partially dislocate. This is called subluxation, and it causes your joint to feel loose and unstable.

What to do if you dislocate a joint

Your dislocated joint will be extremely painful until it’s back in its normal position, but don’t believe what you see in the movies — it’s never OK to ram your shoulder into a wall to pop the joint back into place. Here’s what to do instead:

Trying to replace the joint by yourself or with the help of someone at the scene often causes even more damage to your blood vessels and nerves, so it’s best to seek professional medical care.

How we treat joint dislocations

Often, dislocated joints are obvious just by looking at them; at other times, we need confirmation from an X-ray. These images also tell us if you have any broken bones. Once we know the exact nature of the dislocation and any collateral damage, we can proceed with treatment.

Because you’re already in pain, and resetting the joint is painful as well, we give you a local anesthetic before we proceed. Once you’re comfortable, we manipulate the bones to help them drop back into place. 

This may require momentary pulling or twisting, which is why you want Dr. King to perform this precise maneuver rather than a well-intentioned friend or family member.

Once your joint is back in place, you should experience dramatic pain reduction. However, you may still have damaged tissues that need some time to heal.

Physical therapy is key to rehabilitating your joint, but the amount of time it takes you to recover depends on the severity of your injury, your age and overall health, and other variables. 

Preventing future joint dislocations

Staying healthy and in good physical shape gives you the best chance of avoiding another joint dislocation in the future. This means maintaining a healthy body weight and strengthening the muscles around your joint.

You may also need to avoid certain activities that put your previously injured joint in jeopardy of another dislocation. If you do participate in sports or other strenuous activities, make sure your joint is well protected with appropriate equipment, such as braces or guards. 

If you experience recurrent dislocations, talk to Dr. King about surgical interventions that can help you prevent repeated problems.

To learn more about joint dislocations or to get help for an acute joint injury, call us at 205-391-4440.

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