Orthopedic pitfalls in the ED: neurovascular injury associated with posterior elbow dislocations

Sadie J Carter, Carl A Germann, Angelo A Dacus, Timothy W Sweeney, Andrew D Perron
American Journal of Emergency Medicine 2010, 28 (8): 960-5
Posterior elbow dislocations are the most common type of elbow dislocation and are usually caused by a fall on an outstretched hand. Although the incidence of elbow dislocation complications is rare, the emergency physician is responsible for evaluation and identification of concomitant neurovascular injuries. Failure to identify neurovascular compromise after elbow dislocation or reduction can potentially lead to severe morbidity with limb ischemia, neurologic changes, compartment syndrome, and potential loss of limb. Cyanosis, pallor, pulselessness, and marked pain should suggest vascular injury or compartment syndrome, both requiring immediate intervention. Patients in whom it is not clear if there is vascular injury should undergo further imaging with angiography, considered the gold standard for evaluation of arterial damage. It is important for the emergency physician to maintain a high level of suspicion and evaluate for neurovascular compromise on every patient with elbow dislocation despite the low overall incidence of severe injury.

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