Elbow dislocation


  • Usually due to FOOSH
  • 90% are posterolateral
  • Median and ulnar nerves may be injured
  • Brachial artery may be injured
  • "Terrible Triad" injury describes unstable joint consisting of:
    1. Elbow dislocation
    2. Radial head fracture
    3. Coronoid fracture

Clinical Features

  • Swelling may be severe
  • Displaced equilateral triangle of olecranon and epicondyles (undisturbed in supracondylar fracture)

Posterior dislocation

  • Elbow held in 45 degree of flexion
  • Olecranon is prominent posteriorly

Anterior dislocation

  • Elbow held in extension

Differential Diagnosis

Elbow Diagnoses





Lateral view of posterior dislocation
AP view of posterior dislocation
  • Imaging
    • Look for associated fractures (especially of coronoid and radial head)
    • Lateral: both ulna and radius are displaced posteriorly
    • AP: lateral or medial displacement with ulna/radius in their normal relationship
  • Red flags


  • Likely requires procedural sedation and/or intra-articular analgesic injection
  • Reduction techniques: [1]
    • To reduce dislocation:
      • an assistant should stabilize the humerus in 30 degrees of flexion, supinated and apply countertraction
      • provider applies traction to the supinated distal forearm
      • following reduction, patients should be immobilized in a posterior splint with orthopedic follow-up in 1 week
    • Stimson
      • Patient prone with elbow flexed at 90 degrees at edge of bed. Hang weight from hand, and if needed provider can push olecranon into place
  • Immobilize in long arm posterior mold with elbow in slightly less than 90deg flexion
    • If unstable, splint with forearm in pronation
    • Document post reduction neurovascular status and post reduction films


  • Obtain emergent consult for irreducible dislocations, nerve or vascular compromise, associated fracture, open dislocation
  • Simple dislocation requires ortho follow up within 1 week

See Also


  1. Davenport M. Procedures for orthopedic emergencies. In: Bond M, ed. Orthopedic Emergencies: Expert Management for the Emergency Physician. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; October 31, 2013.