How to Decide Whether to Reduce a Dislocation

A dislocation occurs when the bone ends of a joint become misaligned. The greater a joint's range of motion, the more likely it is to suffer a dislocation. Before deciding to realign the bones, a process called a reduction of dislocation, you must consider how far away medical help is and whether the risk of further injury is greater if you don't reduce it. Only attempt a reduction if absolutely necessary.


  1. Image titled Decide Whether to Reduce a Dislocation Step 1
    Determine if the injury is a dislocation.
    • Compare the joint to the joint on the other side of the body. A dislocation makes the joint look malformed.
    • Test the range of motion. Do this by asking the patient to try to move the affected limb rather than moving the limb yourself, because dislocations are very painful. A severely limited range of motion indicates a dislocation.
  2. Image titled Decide Whether to Reduce a Dislocation Step 2
    Inspect the dislocated limb to ensure that no bones are fractured. If there is a fracture, you should not attempt a reduction because the broken bones can tear nerves and blood vessels. If the joint was dislocated by a direct blow, the patient is more likely to have broken a bone.
  3. Image titled Decide Whether to Reduce a Dislocation Step 3
    Consider how far away trained medical help is. While it's best if the dislocation is reduced by a medical professional after x-rays and other tests are conducted, a dislocated limb that goes untreated for a long period of time can lead to additional, more severe injuries. If medical help is more than an hour away, you should attempt a reduction.
  4. Image titled Decide Whether to Reduce a Dislocation Step 4
    Check the blood supply to the dislocated limb. Look for a blue appearance in the extremities, and ask if the patient is experiencing numbness or tingling in the limb. You should attempt a reduction is the blood supply is compromised.
  5. Image titled Decide Whether to Reduce a Dislocation Step 5
    Find someone who knows how to reduce a dislocation or has instruction on hand for attempting reductions. You can cause more severe injuries and put the patient through a great deal of pain if you don't know what you're doing.
    • Question the patient to see if he or she has suffered previous joint dislocations. A dislocated joint is more likely to become dislocated again, and the patient may know how to reduce the dislocation and be willing to let you attempt it.


  • If you engage in activities like camping, hiking or whitewater rafting that take you far away from medical help, consider taking a first aid class from a wilderness medical program. You will learn how to decide whether to reduce a dislocation, how to perform the reductions and what medical care the patient needs afterward.
  • In some cases, a dislocation may reduce itself spontaneously. If the patient is willing to endure some pain, she may prefer to wait a while to see if this happens.


  • In some cases, what seems to be a dislocation could actually be a broken bone right next to the joint. Be very careful diagnosing things that you are untrained to diagnose.
  • Never try to reduce a dislocated wrist. Instead, apply a splint and seek medical help.

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Categories: First Aid and Emergencies