Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital
 

Dislocations

Dislocations

What is a dislocation?

A dislocation occurs when extreme force is put on a ligament, allowing the ends of two connected bones to separate. Ligaments are flexible bands of fibrous tissue that connect various bones and cartilage.

Ligaments also bind the bones in a joint together. Stress on joint ligaments can lead to dislocation of the joint. The hip and shoulder joints, for example, are called "ball and socket" joints. Extreme force on the ligaments in these joints can cause the head of the bone (ball) to partially or completely come out of the socket.

Illustration of types of joints
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The most commonly dislocated joint is the shoulder.

Dislocations are uncommon in younger children because their growth plates (area of bone growth located in the ends of long bones) are weaker than the muscles or tendons; instead, children are more prone to a fracture than a dislocation.

What are the symptoms of a dislocation?

The following are the most common symptoms of a dislocation. However, each child may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

The symptoms of a dislocation may resemble other medical conditions. Always consult your child's physician for a diagnosis.

How is a dislocation diagnosed?

The physician makes the diagnosis with a physical examination. During the examination, the physician obtains a complete medical history of the child and asks how the injury occurred.

Diagnostic procedures may help to evaluate the problem. Diagnostic procedures may include:

Treatment for dislocation

Specific treatment for a dislocation will be determined by your child's physician based on:

All dislocations require immediate medical attention since fractures can also occur with dislocations.

Initial treatment of a dislocation includes R.I.C.E. (rest, ice, compression, and elevation). Dislocations may reduce spontaneously, meaning the bone ends may go back into place by themselves. However, for those dislocations that do not go back into place, your child's physician will need to place the joint back into its proper position so it will heal. Your child will receive sedation to help him or her remain comfortable before the procedure. Sedation will also help the muscles around the dislocated joint relax, so the joint can be put back into place more easily.

Your child's physician may recommend any of the following to help reduce the dislocation or promote healing afterwards:

Additional recommendations may include:

Long-term outlook after a dislocation

While dislocations are rare in younger children, they do occur more frequently among adolescents. It is important that the child adhere to the activity restrictions and/or stretching and strengthening rehabilitation programs to prevent re-injury.

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