A dislocation is the medical term for bones in one of your joints being pushed out of their usual place. They can affect any joint in your body. Dislocations almost always happen during traumas or sports injuries. Never try to push or force a dislocated joint back into place on your own.


What is a dislocation?

Dislocation is the medical term for bones in one of your joints being knocked or pushed out of their usual place.

A joint is any place in your body where two bones meet. They’re part of your skeletal system. You have hundreds of joints throughout your body. They support your body from head to toe.

Any joint in your body can be dislocated. Dislocations can be painful and make it hard (or impossible) to use your affected joint. Dislocations can also strain or tear the tissues around your joints, including your:

Go to the emergency room if you experience a dislocation or can’t use a part of your body. Never try to force a joint back into place on your own.

Types of dislocations

Healthcare providers classify dislocations based on how far the bones in your joints were moved:

  • Complete dislocations (luxation): A complete dislocation happens when the bones in your joint are totally separated and pushed out of place.
  • Subluxation: Subluxation is the medical term for a partial dislocation. You have a subluxation if something pulls your joint apart and the bones still touch, just not as completely as usual.

How common are dislocations?

Dislocations are very common. The most commonly dislocated joints include:


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Symptoms and Causes

What are the symptoms of a dislocation?

The most common symptoms of a dislocation include:

  • Pain.
  • Swelling.
  • Bruising.
  • The joint looking noticeably different or out of place.
  • Being unable to move or use your joint.
  • A feeling of instability or like the joint is weaker than usual.

Your symptoms will vary depending on which joint is affected and which type of dislocation you experience.

What causes dislocations?

Any force that’s strong enough to push a joint out of place can cause a dislocation. The most common causes are:

Dislocation risk factors

Anyone can experience a dislocation, but some groups are more at risk, including people who:

  • Play contact sports.
  • Are older than 65.
  • Have Ehlers-Danlos syndrome or another health condition that weakens connective tissues (including ligaments, tendons or muscles) around joints.


What are common complications of a dislocation?

The most common complications of dislocations are damage to the bones and tissues around your joint, including:

Diagnosis and Tests

How are dislocations diagnosed?

A healthcare provider will diagnose a dislocation with a physical exam. They’ll examine your joint and the area around it. Tell your provider about any symptoms you’re experiencing and what you were doing right before your injury.

What tests are done to diagnose dislocations?

Your provider might need some of the following imaging tests to diagnose damage inside your body after a dislocation:


Management and Treatment

How are dislocations treated?

The most important treatment for a dislocation is putting your joint back in its correct place. Your healthcare provider might call this a relocation, manipulation or a closed reduction. They’ll carefully push and pull on the dislocated joint to move it back into alignment. Your provider might give you anesthesia or sedatives (medications that make you sleepy or feel less pain) before they relocate your joint. You might need X-rays before and after a relocation to check for broken bones in or around your joint.

Never try to reposition a dislocated joint on your own. Don’t let anyone other than a healthcare provider push your joint back into place. If you experience a dislocation, go to the emergency room right away. If possible, go to the emergency room instead of an urgent care or other clinic if you experience a dislocation. The ER is the best place to go because healthcare providers in the emergency room can get you any imaging tests and any medication you’ll need before and after they put your joint back into alignment.

Depending on which joint was dislocated, you might need other treatment, including:

  • Immobilization: Wearing a splint, sling or brace will hold your joint in place while it heals.
  • Medication: Your provider will tell you which medication you can take to reduce pain and inflammation. Don’t take over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers for more than 10 days in a row without talking to your provider.
  • Rest: You’ll need to avoid any physical activity that uses or puts stress on your affected joint.

Dislocation surgery

If the injury that dislocated your joint caused other damage inside your body, you might need surgery to repair it. Some people with severe dislocations need surgery to reset their joint if a closed reduction doesn’t work.

What is the recovery time after a dislocation?

Most people need at least a few weeks to recover after a dislocation. How long it takes your joint to heal depends on which joint was dislocated and if you experienced any other injuries.

A dislocated finger may feel back to normal in three weeks. A bigger joint like your shoulder could take several months or longer to heal. Your provider will tell you what to expect.

Ask your provider how long you need to wait before you resume physical activities. If you return to playing sports or working out before your joint has fully healed, you have an increased risk of reinjuring it — including dislocating it again.


How can I prevent a dislocation?

You can’t always prevent a dislocation. They usually happen because of accidents and traumas you can’t plan for.

During sports or other physical activities:

  • Wear the right protective equipment.
  • Don’t “play through the pain” if one of your joints hurts during or after physical activity.
  • Give your body time to rest and recover after intense activity.
  • Stretch and warm up before playing sports or working out.
  • Cool down and stretch after physical activity.

Follow these general safety tips to reduce your risk of an injury:

  • Make sure your home and workspace are free from clutter that could trip you or others.
  • Always use the proper tools or equipment at home to reach things. Never stand on chairs, tables or countertops.
  • Use a cane or walker if you have difficulty walking or have an increased risk for falls.

Outlook / Prognosis

What is the outlook for a dislocation?

Most dislocations heal completely. You should start to feel better as soon as your joint is back in its place.

People who dislocate a knee or shoulder are more likely to dislocate it again in the future. Wearing protective gear like a brace during physical activity may reduce your risk of another dislocation.

You may need to work with a physical therapist to strengthen the muscles around the joint you dislocated. This can help prevent repeated dislocations.

Will I need to miss work or school with a dislocation?

As long as your job or schoolwork doesn’t require you to put extra pressure on your affected joint, you shouldn’t have to miss work or school after a dislocation. Ask your provider when you can return to sports, doing chores or lifting heavy objects.

Living With

When should I go to the emergency room?

Go to the emergency room right away if you experience trauma or think you have a dislocation. Don’t try to push your joint back in place by yourself. Don’t let anyone who’s not a trained, professional healthcare provider move or touch your injured joint. Try to hold your injured joint as still as possible and don’t force yourself to use it or put weight on it.

If you try to force your joint back in place on your own, you can hurt it more than it already is, make your injury worse and damage the tissue around your joint’s socket.

What questions should I ask my doctor?

  • Which type of dislocation do I have?
  • Which treatments will I need?
  • How long will it take me to recover?
  • How long will I need to keep my joint immobilized?
  • Will I need surgery?
  • When can I return to playing sports or doing physical activities?

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Dislocations are scary, usually because they happen during traumas or accidentally during sports. It can be shocking to see or feel one of your joints out of place, but don’t try to force it back in on your own. Go to the emergency room right away so a healthcare provider can reset your joint.

Don’t let a coach, teammate or loved one try to push your joint back into place. Even though they might mean well, they can damage your joint worse than it already is and cause other complications.

The good news is, most people can return to the court, field and all their usual activities as soon as their joint has healed. Ask your provider how long you’ll need to keep your joint immobilized.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed on 03/01/2023.

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