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.
Healthcare providers classify dislocations based on how far the bones in your joints were moved:
Dislocations are very common. The most commonly dislocated joints include:
The most common symptoms of a dislocation include:
Your symptoms will vary depending on which joint is affected and which type of dislocation you experience.
Any force that’s strong enough to push a joint out of place can cause a dislocation. The most common causes are:
Anyone can experience a dislocation, but some groups are more at risk, including people who:
The most common complications of dislocations are damage to the bones and tissues around your joint, including:
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.
Your provider might need some of the following imaging tests to diagnose damage inside your body after a dislocation:
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:
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.
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.
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:
Follow these general safety tips to reduce your risk of an injury:
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.
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.
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.
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.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 03/01/2023.