First aid for a dislocation: do’s and don’ts

First aid for a dislocation: do's and don'ts

First aid for a dislocation: do’s and don’ts

March 28, 2019

Educational program Health

Don’t even try to deal with this injury on your own.
Photo by Ekaterina Komissarova

Ekaterina Komissarova

Lifehacker medical journalist

First aid for a dislocation: do's and don'ts

How to know it’s a dislocation

A dislocation is an injury that anyone can experience. Unsuccessfully jumped off the curb or landed on his elbow when falling, or hit the basketball too vigorously, or even just yawned too widely … A dull click (however, against the background of suddenly arising fresh and more than unpleasant sensations, not everyone notices it) – and something then jammed.

First of all, don’t panic. Perhaps the pain is just a muscle spasm caused by a blow, or, let’s say, a sprain. Unpleasant, but relatively safe. So take a deep breath (this will help reduce the pain) and look at the affected part of the body.

A dislocation is a displacement of bones at a joint.

Depending on the degree of displacement, external manifestations may differ. But in general it doesn’t matter. Remember just four symptom. With any of them, you need to go to the traumatologist as soon as possible!

  1. The affected joint looks strange – for example, the bone acquires an unnatural angle of inclination.
  2. The joint has increased in size, swelling is observed, and the skin over this area has changed color – it has turned red or, on the contrary, has become waxy-pale.
  3. You feel severe pain in the joint area. Another option is numbness: if nerve endings were damaged during dislocation, loss of sensitivity is possible.
  4. You cannot move the bones in the affected joint. For example, bend or straighten a bruised finger or close a “jammed” jaw. And if you succeed, then with great difficulty and through an attack of acute pain.

What not to do with a dislocation

If you suspect a dislocation, don’t make these common mistakes.

Don’t expect it to go away

A dislocation is the closest relative of a fracture. Even if the bones are still intact, the displacement could damage blood vessels and nerves. The same nerves may “heal”, but they will remind you of the injury for years with aching pain, or even a serious limitation of mobility in the affected joint.

Don’t try to fix the dislocation yourself

First of all, because you may not have a dislocation, but a fracture. The symptoms of these injuries are very similar, and to distinguish one from the other is sometimes possible only with the help of x-rays. Trying to fix broken bones will only increase the damage.

Don’t slow down

A dislocation is always accompanied by edema, and often also internal bleeding. The more time passes since the injury, the more fluid accumulates near the joint and the more difficult it will be to set it. So do not hesitate – run to the emergency room. If “running” does not work – for example, a leg is injured – do not hesitate to call an ambulance.

How to provide first aid for a dislocation

1. Keep the affected joint as immobile as possible: do not bend your knees, elbows, fingers, do not move your jaw…

2. Apply something cold to the injured area – an ice pack or frozen vegetables (remember to wrap it in a thin cloth), a heating pad with ice water. Cold will stop the development of edema and reduce pain.

3. Take an ibuprofen or paracetamol pain reliever.

4. And hurry up to the doctor!

How will a dislocation be treated?

Treatment begins with a medical examination. A traumatologist or surgeon will most likely send you for an X-ray to make sure that we are talking about a dislocation, and not a fracture or cracked bone. In some cases, an MRI may be required: tomography will help the physician assess damage to the soft tissues around the joint.

What happens next depends on what the doctor finds. Most often, treatment includes the following items.

The doctor will try to straighten the joint

That is, to return the moved bones to the correct position. This procedure is quite painful, so you may need anesthesia – local or even general.

Might need surgery

It is resorted to in the event that it was not possible to cope with the dislocation manually. Also, a surgical operation is prescribed for significant damage to the nerves, blood vessels and ligaments, or repeated dislocations in the same area.

Time to immobilize the joint

After the bones return to their natural position, the surgeon can immobilize the joint by placing a splint on it or hanging it from a sling. How long you have to wear this “harness” – a few days or a few weeks – depends on the degree of damage to the joint, nerves, blood vessels and soft tissues.

You will need to rehabilitate

Having got rid of the splint or sling, get ready to do joint gymnastics and undergo physiotherapy for a long time and hard. This is an important step that is necessary to restore the previous mobility.

By the way, keep in mind: if the joint has been dislocated at least once, it is likely that one day it will happen again. To reduce the risks, follow all the doctor’s recommendations. And of course, take care of yourself.

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