Dislocation vs Subluxation: What’s the Difference and What You Need to Know

Feb 14, 2024

Dislocation vs Subluxation- What’s the Difference and What You Need to KnowWhether you experience sudden or chronic joint instability, it can be frustrating and painful when a joint moves beyond its normal range, causing you to lose normal function. Dislocation and subluxation are two types of joint instability, both of which involve the uncomfortable shift of a joint and the impact on surrounding structures. Understanding the differences between dislocation vs. subluxation is crucial for an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan to provide you with lasting relief.

What Joints Are More Prone to Dislocation?

Several joints in the body are susceptible to dislocation, with some being more prone to this condition than others due to the type and function of the joint. Among the most commonly dislocated joints are the shoulder, elbow, thumb, hip, knee, and ankle.

The shoulder joint, in particular, is highly vulnerable to dislocation due to its wide range of motion and relatively shallow socket, which allows for greater mobility but also makes it less stable. Sports injuries, falls, and trauma are frequent causes of shoulder dislocations. In the lower extremities, hip dislocations usually occur because of sudden trauma, such as car accidents or slip and fall injuries.

What Joints Are More Prone to Subluxation?

Subluxation refers to a partial dislocation and can occur in various joints throughout the body. Unlike a dislocated joint, a subluxation may not always cause sudden pain and other symptoms. A subluxation is more like a partial or mini dislocation, where the joint has shifted slightly out of place. Subluxations can occur with most joints in the body and are common with regular wear and tear on the body. From poor posture while you sit at a desk for many hours to poor form when you exercise, these every day habits can cause joints to shift out of proper alignment slowly and subtly and begin to cause discomfort. Chiropractic adjustments are a technique that can help resolve a subluxation before it becomes a larger problem.

How a Chiropractor Assess a Dislocation vs Subluxation

Chiropractors diagnose dislocations and subluxations through a combination of physical examination, patient history, and diagnostic imaging tools. Here’s how your Snellville chiropractor would typically differentiate between the two:

Patient History

A chiropractor will typically begin with a detailed history of your symptoms, including any past injuries or episodes of joint instability. They will want to know when you first noticed your symptoms, how long those symptoms have lasted, and if any specific movements or activities make your discomfort worse.

Physical Examination

During the physical examination, the chiropractor will assess the affected joint for signs of instability, tenderness, swelling, and restricted range of motion. They may perform various tests to evaluate the joint function and any impact on surrounding soft tissues. For example, specific maneuvers can help determine if the joint is prone to dislocation or subluxation based on the degree of laxity and the presence of associated ligamentous or muscular imbalances.

Diagnostic Imaging Tools

In some cases, your doctor may order diagnostic imaging tools such as X-rays, MRI, or CT scans to confirm the diagnosis and assess the extent of joint damage. X-rays are particularly useful for evaluating bones and detecting dislocations, while MRI and CT scans provide detailed images of soft tissues, helping to identify injuries that affect muscles, ligaments, and other soft tissues.

Chiropractic Techniques

Chiropractors may also use therapeutic interventions, such as manual adjustments, mobilization techniques, or therapeutic exercises, to assess the joint’s response and differentiate between dislocation vs. subluxation. Dislocations typically require immediate reduction to restore joint alignment, whereas subluxations may respond well to conservative treatments aimed at improving joint stability and function over time.

How Does Treatment Differ for a Dislocation vs Subluxation?

How Does Treatment Differ for a Dislocation vs Subluxation?Treatment for dislocations vs subluxations can differ based on the severity of the injury and the underlying cause. Here’s what you can expect with potential treatment options for a subluxation vs a dislocation.

Dislocation Treatment

  • Immediate Reduction: Dislocations typically require immediate reduction, which involves manually putting the joint back into its normal position. This procedure should be performed by a qualified healthcare professional, such as an orthopedic surgeon or ER doctor, to minimize further damage to surrounding structures.
  • Immobilization: After reduction, the affected joint is often immobilized using a splint, sling, or brace to prevent recurrence and promote healing. Immobilization may be necessary for several weeks, depending on the extent of soft tissue damage and the specific joint involved.
  • Rehabilitation: Once the acute phase has passed, rehabilitation exercises are initiated to restore strength, flexibility, and range of motion to the affected joint. Physical therapy may include gentle stretching, strengthening exercises, and functional activities to improve joint stability and prevent future dislocations.
  • Orthotic Devices: In some cases, orthotic devices such as braces, orthotics, or taping techniques may be recommended to provide additional support and stability to the joint, particularly during activities that exacerbate symptoms.
  • Surgical Intervention: In some cases, particularly if there are broken bones, severe soft tissue injuries, or a history of multiple dislocations, surgical intervention may be necessary to repair damaged structures and restore joint stability.

Subluxation Treatment

  • Non-invasive Techniques: Subluxations often respond well to non-invasive techniques to improve joint stability. This may include manual therapy techniques with your Snellville chiropractor, such as chiropractic adjustments, mobilization, or soft tissue therapy to realign the joint and alleviate symptoms.
  • Therapeutic Exercises: Specific exercises targeting muscle imbalances and weaknesses can also improve joint stability and prevent recurrent subluxations. These exercises will typically focus on strengthening the muscles surrounding the joint for improved support.

Overall, while both dislocations and subluxations require prompt attention and appropriate management, the treatment approach varies based on the specific injury pattern, severity, and individual patient factors. Collaboration between healthcare professionals, including orthopedic specialists, chiropractors, physical therapists, and athletic trainers, is often necessary to optimize outcomes and prevent long-term complications.

AICA Orthopedics for Dislocations and Subluxations 

At AICA Orthopedics in Snellville, our team of doctors includes chiropractors, physical therapists, and orthopedic surgeons who provide personalized treatment and care for a wide range of joint conditions. Get started today with a Snellville chiropractor and experience first-hand how chiropractic care can improve your joint mobility and overall health and well-being.


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