Rehabilitation After Posterolateral Dislocation of the Elbow in a Collegiate Football Player: A Case Report


OBJECTIVE: To describe a functional rehabilitation program for a football player with a grade 2 posterolateral elbow dislocation to facilitate early return to competition.

BACKGROUND: Conservative management of a posterior dislocation of the elbow is common. The elbow is the second most frequently dislocated large joint in adults. Two common mechanisms of dislocation are hyperextension and posterolateral rotation. Prolonged immobilization can be detrimental to regaining full range of motion and function of the elbow, whereas early directed rehabilitation may lead to early return to normal function.

DIFFERENTIAL DIAGNOSIS: Elbow dislocation with medial collateral ligament rupture, elbow subluxation, elbow dislocation with neurovascular compromise, or supracondylar fracture.

TREATMENT: The athlete received immediate care of reduction and immobilization in a 90 degrees posterior splint followed by a radiologic evaluation. Postreduction treatment included a short immobilization period and early initiation of protected active and resistive range-of-motion exercises. The athlete was able to return to full football activities in 3 weeks. He competed for the rest of the season with the elbow braced and taped, with no recurring incidents of instability.

UNIQUENESS: The time to return to full participation was rapid. The medial collateral ligament was intact, as determined by magnetic resonance imaging. The athlete has since been followed for 2 football seasons and has not demonstrated any detrimental effects due to his early return.

CONCLUSIONS: Early determination of the status of the medial collateral ligament through physical examination or imaging combined with early directed rehabilitation of a posterolateral elbow instability enabled this athlete to respond well. He regained pain-free full range of motion, strength, and function, allowing full participation in football at the Division I level with no recurring incidence of dislocation.

Document Type


Publication Date


Notes/Citation Information

Published in Journal of Athletic Training, v. 35, no. 1, p. 108-110.