The place where two or more bones in the body come together is called a joint. A dislocation occurs when the bones in a joint become separated or knocked out of their usual positions. Any joint in the body can become dislocated. If the joint is partially dislocated, it is called a subluxation.
Dislocations can be very painful and cause the affected joint area to be unsteady or immobile (unable to move). They can also strain or tear the surrounding muscles, nerves, and tendons (tissue that connects the bones at a joint). You should seek medical treatment for a dislocation.
Dislocations are very common. They can happen to any joint in the body, but they most often affect these joints:
Trauma that forces a joint out of place causes a dislocation. Car accidents, falls, and contact sports such as football are common causes of this injury.
Dislocations also occur during regular activities when the muscles and tendons surrounding the joint are weak. These injuries happen more often in older people who have weaker muscles and balance issues.
Symptoms of a dislocation vary depending on the severity and location of the injury. The symptoms of a dislocated joint include:
Your doctor may diagnose a dislocation by looking at and moving the joint and asking about what caused the injury.
In some cases, a doctor will use an imaging test called an X-ray to take a picture of your bones. This test allows the doctor to see the exact location and severity of the dislocation.
Treatment can vary based on the severity of the injury and which joint is dislocated. Applying ice and keeping the joint elevated can help reduce pain while you wait to see a doctor. Treatments for dislocations include:
Most dislocations don’t have serious or lasting complications. When the bones that make up a joint slide out of place, it can cause the tendons, ligaments, and muscles around the joint to tear. It may also sometimes cause bones to break. Your doctor may recommend surgery to repair these injuries.
Some severely dislocated joints can damage nerves and blood vessels around the joint. When blood is unable to flow to the affected area, the surrounding tissue may die. To minimize the likelihood of damage, it is important to have severely dislocated joints put back in place promptly by a doctor.
Anyone can suffer a dislocation. People at higher risk include those:
You can take several steps to reduce the risk of a dislocation. They include:
Most dislocations heal completely. They start to feel better as soon as a doctor puts the joint back in place.
Recovery times vary based on the severity of the dislocation and the joint affected. A dislocated finger may feel back to normal in three weeks. However, a hip dislocation could take several months or longer to heal.
People who dislocate their knee or shoulder are more likely to dislocate those joints again because the surrounding tissues have stretched. Wearing protective gear such as a brace during physical activity can reduce the risk of another dislocation.
Contact your doctor right away if you think you have a dislocated joint. Do not try to push a dislocation back into place yourself. This effort could damage the muscles and tissue around the joint and lead to complications.
If you have a dislocated joint, you may want to ask your doctor:
Healing times for dislocations vary depending on the joint affected and the severity of the injury. Most people can return to work or school once a doctor has returned the dislocated joint to its proper location.
A splint or sling can help protect the joint so you can get back to day-to-day activities while the joint heals fully. Your doctor will advise you when you can return to more physical activities such as sports, chores, or heavy work.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 07/08/2018.