Joint Dislocation: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments

A joint dislocation occurs when the ends of two bones that form a joint are no longer aligned. This can happen due to a traumatic injury, such as a fall or car accident, or it may be the result of a congenital condition, such as dislocated hips. Joint dislocations are extremely painful and can cause swelling, bruising, and deformity. If not treated promptly, they can also lead to long-term joint instability. Treatment typically involves realigning the bones and stabilizing the joint with splints, casts, or surgery. In some cases, physical therapy may also be necessary to regain full range of motion. Joint dislocations are serious injuries that require prompt medical attention.

Typical areas of joint dislocations

You can get a joint dislocation anywhere in your body with joints. However, some areas are more susceptible than others. The most common areas for joint dislocations are:


The shoulder is the most commonly dislocated joint in the body. This is likely due to its extensive range of motion and the fact that it’s a weight-bearing joint. When your shoulder gets dislocated, the arm bone (humerus) pops out of the socket. This can happen if you fall on your outstretched hand or receive a blow to the shoulder.


The elbow joint is the second most commonly dislocated joint. It’s made up of three bones: the humerus, ulna, and radius. The most common type of elbow dislocation is called radial head dislocation. This occurs when the head of the radius bone pops out of place. Elbow dislocations are often caused by falls or direct blows to the elbow.


The knee joint is the third most common site of joint dislocation. It’s a weight-bearing joint made up of the femur, patella, and tibia bones. Knee dislocations often occur during high-impact sports, such as football or hockey. In some cases, athletes may need to use custom braces for their knees to help them avoid this type of injury.


runner with injury in the ankleThe ankle is the fourth most common site of joint dislocation. This joint comprises the tibia, fibula, and talus bones. Ankle dislocations often occur due to a fall or direct blow to the ankle. They can also happen if you awkwardly roll your ankle.


The symptoms of a joint dislocation depend on the location of the injury. However, there are some common symptoms that you may experience if you have a dislocated joint, including:

  • Intense pain occurs both at the injury time and in the hours or days afterward.
  • Swelling is caused by fluid build-up around the joint.
  • Bruising may occur around the joint or up and down the affected limb.
  • A deformity may appear when the joint looks twisted or out of place.
  • Loss of function occurs when you’re unable to move the affected joint.
  • Tingling or numbness may be caused by damage to the nerves around the joint.

If you have any of these symptoms, you most likely suffer from a joint dislocation and should seek medical attention immediately.


While joint dislocation can happen to anyone, certain factors can increase your risk. These include:

  • participating in contact sports, such as football or hockey
  • having a previous joint dislocation
  • being born with a congenital condition, such as dislocated hips
  • suffering from a bone or joint condition, such as arthritis
  • experiencing a traumatic event, such as a car accident or fall

How is a joint dislocation diagnosed?

If you suspect that you have a joint dislocation, seeking medical attention immediately is necessary. The sooner you’re seen by a doctor, the better your chances are of making a full recovery.

Your doctor will ask you about your symptoms and how the injury occurred to diagnose a joint dislocation. They will then conduct a physical examination of the affected joint. In some cases, imaging tests, such as X-rays or MRIs, may be ordered to confirm the diagnosis.


Once a joint dislocation has been diagnosed, the first step is to reduce the dislocation. This involves putting the bone back into its correct position. Your doctor will give you a local anesthetic to numb the area before moving the bone back into place.

After the joint has been reduced, your doctor will likely order X-rays to ensure that it’s in the correct position. Once the X-rays have been reviewed, you will be placed in a splint or sling to immobilize the joint and allow it to heal.

You will need to undergo physical therapy to regain range of motion and strength in the affected joint. Physical therapy may last for several weeks or months. In some cases, surgery may be necessary to repair damage to the joint’s ligaments, tendons, or bones.


There are several things you can do to help prevent joint dislocation, including:

  • Wearing appropriate safety gear when participating in sports or other activities.
  • Use proper form and technique when exercising.
  • Avoid high-impact activities if you have a previous joint injury.
  • Maintaining good bone and joint health by eating a healthy diet and getting enough exercise.

If you have a joint condition, such as arthritis, follow your treatment plan and attend all of your scheduled appointments.

Final thoughts

Joint dislocation can be a painful and debilitating injury. However, with early diagnosis and treatment, most people can make a full recovery. There are also steps you can take to help prevent joint dislocation from occurring in the first place. If you think you may have a joint dislocation, talk to your doctor immediately!

Scroll to Top