Whakarauora pona pakoki Dislocated joints first aid

Dislocated joints happen when a bone slips out of its normal joint. The most common joints to dislocate are shoulders, fingers and kneecaps. Dislocations commonly happen during sporting activities or are caused by a fall.

How to tell if someone has dislocated a joint

If someone has a dislocated joint:

  • they may feel pain
  • the area may be swollen and red
  • they will not be able to move the joint.

They may also feel tingling or numbness around the joint or further up or down the limb.

Helping someone who has dislocated a joint

What to do depends on the joint that is dislocated. But generally:

  • tell them to stay still or rest the affected joint or limb — do not move them if they have a suspected head, neck or back injury
  • reduce movement of the joint by supporting it in a comfortable position
  • apply ice to the joint to reduce any swelling — do not apply the ice directly to their skin, instead, wrap it in a damp cloth.

Getting medical help

A person's joint may dislocate a lot and they may be used to putting it back into position themselves. Sometimes a dislocated joint will go back into place naturally. Even so, it is best to see a doctor. You may need an x-ray or treatment to help your ligaments and tendons heal.

If the joint does not go back into place and:

  • it is a small joint like a finger, go to your healthcare provider — they may refer you to see a doctor where there is an x-ray machine
  • it is a large joint like a shoulder, go to the nearest hospital's emergency department.

If the dislocation causes any pins and needles or numbness, it is important to see a doctor straight away to prevent permanent nerve damage.

Related websites

St John

More information about what to do if someone has dislocated a joint or broken a bone.

Clinical review

This content was written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. It has been adapted for Health Information and Services.

Clinical advisers — HealthInfo (external link)

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