A dislocation is a separation of two bones where they meet at a joint. Joints are areas where two bones come together.

A dislocated bone is no longer in its normal position.

Alternative Names

Joint dislocation


It may be hard to tell a dislocated bone from a broken bone. Both are an emergency. You will need the same first aid treatment.

Most dislocations can be treated in a doctor's office or emergency room. You may be given medicine to make you sleepy and to numb the area. Sometimes, general anesthesia in the operating room is needed.

When treated early, most dislocations will not result in permanent injury.

Once a joint has been dislocated, it is more likely to happen again. Follow-up with an orthopedic surgeon is recommended after a dislocation.


Dislocations are usually caused by a sudden impact to the joint. This usually occurs following a blow, fall, or other trauma.


A dislocated joint may be:

Nursemaid's elbow is a partial dislocation common in toddlers. The main symptom is refusal to use the arm. Nursemaid's elbow can be easily treated in a doctor's office.

First Aid

  1. Call 911 before you begin treating someone who may have a dislocation, especially if the accident causing the injury may be life-threatening.
  2. If there has been a serious injury, check the person's airway, breathing, and circulation. If necessary, begin rescue breathing, CPR, or bleeding control.
  3. Do not move the person if you think that the head, back, or leg has been injured. Keep the person still. Provide reassurance.
  4. If the skin is broken, take steps to prevent infection. Do not blow on the wound. Rinse the area gently to remove obvious dirt, but do not scrub or probe. Cover the area with sterile dressings before immobilizing the injury.
  5. Splint or sling the injury in the position in which you found it. Do not move the joint. Be sure to immobilize the area above and below the injured joint.
  6. Check the person's blood circulation around the injury by pressing firmly on the skin in the affected area. It should blanch white, then regain color within a couple of seconds. Avoid this step if the skin has been broken, to reduce the risk of infection.
  7. Apply ice packs to ease pain and swelling.
  8. Take steps to prevent shock. Unless there is a head, leg, or back injury, lay the victim flat, elevate the feet about 12 inches, and cover the person with a coat or blanket.


When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call 911 if the person has:


Preventing injuries in children:

Preventing dislocations in adults:

For all age groups:


Browner BD, Jupiter JB, Levine Am, Trafton PG, Krettek C., eds. Skeletal Trauma. 4th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier;2008.

Chapman MW. Fracture healing and closed treatment of fractures and dislocations. In: Chapman MW, Szabo RM, Marder RA, Vince KG, Mann RA, Lane JM, et al, eds. Chapman's Orthopaedic Surgery. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Lippincott, Williams & Wilkins: 2000:chap 10.

Foley KA. Knee dislocation. In: Rosen P, Barkin RM, Hayden SR, Schaider JJ, Wolfe R, eds. Rosen and Barkin's 5-Minute Emergency Medicine Consult. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Lippincott, Williams & Wilkins; 2007.

Brabson TA, Greenfield BS. Prehospital Immobilization.In:  Roberts JR, Hedges JR, eds. Roberts: Clinical Procedures in Emergency Medicine.  5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2009: chap 46.

Ufberg JW, McNamara RM. Management of Common Dislocations.In:  Roberts JR, Hedges JR, eds. Roberts: Clinical Procedures in Emergency Medicine.  5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2009: chap 49.

Review Date: 4/12/2012
Reviewed By: Jacob L. Heller, MD, MHA, Emergency Medicine, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, Washington. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.
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