Squeaky Elbow Hinge Gets the Grease

Sometimes the elbow gets dislocated and stays that way. Usually, elbow dislocations are treated right away. The doctor may be able to put the joint back in place without surgery. This is called a closed reduction. In some cases, surgery is needed to realign the joint. This is called an open reduction.

In some patients, treatment to reduce the elbow isn't done. This occurs most often in countries where medical help isn't readily available.

When an elbow is dislocated for weeks or months, the joint doesn't move. There is a natural healing process that starts to take place. The body fills in the joint with fibrous tissue and new cells. Over a long period of time, the joint might actually fuse in place.

Surgery to repair an old elbow dislocation can be done with good results. No attempt is made to repair damage to the joint surfaces, nearby muscles, tendons, or ligaments. A special device, called an external fixator, is attached over the elbow. The external fixator connects through the bones on either side of the joint from the outside. This allows the joint to move during the first few weeks after surgery. It is used until the patient is able to move the elbow on his or her own.

Pain and loss of motion and function are common with elbow dislocations. The patient can't move the joint, and everyday tasks and activities become difficult. Surgery up to two months later can reduce pain and discomfort while increasing motion and function. A major operation to reconstruct the entire elbow isn't always needed.

References: Jesse B. Jupiter, MD, and David Ring, MD. Treatment of Unreduced Elbow Dislocations With Hinged External Fixation. In The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery. September 2002. Vol. 84-A. No. 9. Pp. 1630-1635.