Sports Rehab following Elbow Dislocation


Elbow dislocation and sports rehab are commonly seen in athletes that participate in football, gymnastics, cycling, rollerblading and skateboarding. The majority of reported elbow dislocations occurs in teenagers and young adults. The elbow is the second most common dislocation after the shoulder.

An elbow dislocation occurs when the forearm bones (radius and ulna) get displaced and are out of alignment with the bone in the upper arm called the humerus. There are two types of elbow dislocations (1) complete and (2) partial which is often called a subluxation.

reduction elbowIf a coach or athlete suspects this type of injury medical attention should be sought in a hospital emergency room or orthopedists office. Most of the time these injuries require the doctor to manipulate the elbow bones into place called reduction. Since reduction is painful the patient is given sedation but remains conscious. After the procedure the elbow is immobilized in an L-shaped splint along the posterior aspect to prevent arm movement. The patient is then followed up by the orthopedist and usually sports rehab is recommended. Here we will discuss the causes, symptoms, sports rehab and prevention of elbow dislocations.


An athlete typically dislocates the elbow when they try to break a fall with an out stretched arm. The force of this fall shoots into the elbow thus pushing the bones out of the socket. For example, when a football player attempts to avoid being tackled with an extended arm the elbow cannot absorb the shock thus dislocation is a strong possibility.


image dislocated elbowSymptoms of elbow dislocation are (1) severe pain along all aspects of the elbow (2) bruising and swelling (3) distortion of elbow joint (4) you can experience numbness and discoloration below the elbow either from secondary injuries to the nerve or arteries traveling through elbow (5) great difficulty in flexing and extending the elbow and (6) hand numbness and coolness if nerves or blood supply are traumatized.

Sports Rehab for Elbow Dislocation

elbow immobilityAfter the elbow splint is removed usually after two-three weeks a sports rehab program is started. A qualified physical therapist will begin the rehab process with gentle range of motion and strengthening exercises. Therapy modalities such as electrical stimulation to reduce swelling; cold laser to soothe and reduce existing discoloration are often utilized. Soft tissue massage is needed to prevent scar tissue formation.

The strengthening program must be slow and progressive and is based on the extent of the dislocation (complete or partial). Other factors to take into consideration on advancing a strengthening program are (1) any associated fractures (2) assessment of nerve and blood supply involvement and (3) any damage to muscle, tendon or ligament.

A sports rehab program must be continued at home after discharge and instructed by your physical therapist.


PRE elbowThe best prevention of elbow dislocation is to react quickly and not fall with an outstretched arm. When the elbow is slightly bent hitting a hard surface minimizes the impact on the elbow. Keeping the muscles of the involved upper extremity strong by being dedicated with your sports rehab work out. Many athletes like to protect the elbow with either a brace or neoprene wrap to give the elbow additional support.

Sports Rehab and education is extremely effective in preventing elbow dislocations from reoccurring in the future.