Dislocation, Dislocation, Dislocation!

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How to Treat a Dislocation

A dislocation is an injury in which a bone is pulled out of its joint, usually in an extremity.  Shoulders, fingers, and elbows are common victims but knees, ankles and hips may also be affected.  If the dislocation is momentary and the bone slips back into its joint on its own, it is called a subluxation.
Subluxations can be treated the same way that sprains are, using the RICES method (see our recent post on Sprains).  It should be noted that the Orthopedic definition of subluxation is somewhat different than the Chiropractic definition, which relates to the bones of the spine, for the most part.
Of course, if there is medical care readily available, the patient should go directly to the local emergency room.  In a collapse, however, you are on your own and will probably have to correct the dislocation yourself.  This is known as “reducing” the injury.  Reduction is easiest to perform soon after the dislocation, before muscles spasm and the inevitable swelling occurs.  Not only does reducing the dislocation reduce the pain experienced by the victim, but it will decrease damage to all the blood vessels and nerves that run along the line of the injury.  Dislocations give some people the “cringe” factor when they see them, as the extremity is deformed, but taking action is important before permanent damage occurs.

When Should I Treat a Dislocation?

Attempts to reduce the dislocation should be performed as soon as possible.  Some pain relievers like ibuprofen might be useful to decrease discomfort from the reduction.  Muscle relaxers are also helpful, but these are “by prescription only”.  The use of traction will greatly aid your attempt to fix the problem.  Traction is the act of pulling the dislocated bone away from the joint to give the bone room to slip back into place. 
First, stabilize the joint that the bone was dislocated from (the shoulder, for example).  Then, usually a firm but slow pulling action, pull the bone away from the joint and use your other hand (or preferably a helper) to push the bone so that it will be in line again with the joint.  The bone will naturally want to revert to its normal position in the joint.  This is likely to be painful, but will give significant pain relief if it is done successfully.   After the reduction is complete, splint the bone as if it were a fracture (post coming soon), to give the injury the rest it needs to completely heal.
Dr. Bones

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