Subluxation vs Dislocation

When it comes to injuries related to joints and bones, the terms ‘subluxation’ and ‘dislocation’ often get tossed around. Both involve the displacement of bones, but they differ in their severity and impact on the body. Understanding these differences is crucial for proper diagnosis and treatment.

Subluxation: What is it?

Subluxation refers to a partial or incomplete dislocation of a joint. It happens when the joint’s bones are partially displaced from their normal position but are still connected. This displacement can occur due to trauma, repetitive stress, or underlying joint conditions.

Symptoms of Subluxation:

  • Pain: Mild to moderate discomfort around the affected joint.
  • Limited Movement: Reduced range of motion in the joint.
  • Swelling: Mild swelling or tenderness in the area.
  • Instability: Feeling as though the joint might give way.

Dislocation: What does it entail?

A dislocation, on the other hand, is a more severe injury where the bones of a joint are completely displaced from their normal position. This complete separation of the bones disrupts the joint’s normal function and structure. Dislocations commonly occur due to sudden trauma or force applied to the joint.

Symptoms of Dislocation:

  • Severe Pain: Intense pain around the dislocated joint.
  • Visible Deformity: The joint looks deformed or out of place.
  • Inability to Move: Complete loss of movement in the joint.
  • Swelling and Bruising: Immediate swelling and bruising around the affected area.

Imaging Techniques for Diagnosis:

Accurate diagnosis of subluxation or dislocation often requires imaging tests to assess the severity and position of the injury. Healthcare professionals may use several imaging methods:


X-rays are the most common imaging technique used to diagnose both subluxations and dislocations. These images provide detailed views of the bones, showing any misalignments or abnormalities in the joint.

MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging):

MRIs offer a more comprehensive view of soft tissues, ligaments, and tendons around the joint. They are helpful in detecting associated injuries or complications, especially in cases of chronic or recurrent subluxations.

CT Scan (Computed Tomography):

CT scans provide detailed cross-sectional images of bones and surrounding tissues. They are particularly useful in complex or severe dislocations to assess the extent of damage and plan surgical intervention if required.

Treatment Approaches:

Both subluxations and dislocations require prompt medical attention for proper treatment and to prevent long-term complications.

Subluxation Treatment:

  • Resetting the joint
  • Rest and Immobilization: Resting the affected joint and using splints or braces to prevent movement.
  • Physical Therapy: Rehabilitation exercises to strengthen the joint and improve range of motion.
  • Medication: Pain relievers and anti-inflammatory drugs to manage discomfort and swelling.

Dislocation Treatment:

  • Closed Reduction: A healthcare professional manually realigns the bones back into their normal position.
  • Immobilization: After reduction, the joint is immobilized using a sling, brace, or cast to allow healing.
  • Surgery: In severe cases or when ligaments and tissues are severely damaged, surgery might be necessary to repair the joint.


In essence, while both subluxations and dislocations involve the displacement of bones within a joint, their severity and impact on the body differ significantly. Subluxations are partial displacements with less severe symptoms, while dislocations involve complete separation of bones, causing intense pain and loss of joint function.

Prompt diagnosis through imaging techniques and appropriate medical intervention is crucial for effective management and recovery from these joint injuries. If you suspect a joint injury, seek medical attention promptly to receive the proper diagnosis and treatment.

Disclaimer: The content of this website is provided for general informational purposes only and is not intended as, nor should it be considered a substitute for, professional medical advice. Do not use the information on this website for diagnosing or treating any medical or health condition. If you have or suspect you have a medical problem, promptly contact your professional healthcare provider.

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