A dislocation is the separation of the bone from a joint at the articular capsule, causing joint pain or back pain due to the tearing of ligaments on the joint capsule.

The joint that connects and cushions two moving bones is held firmly in position by the articular capsule that is primarily made up of ligaments. During an accident or trauma, the bones on both sides of a joint can be pulled apart, popping the joint out of the joint and become misaligned. Dislocations are most common in the extremities, including the shoulder, knee, hip, and elbow joints. The ligaments that form the joint capsule may be stretched or torn, damaging its structural integrity.

The first step in treating a joint location is to "reduce" the joint back into its normal position. This reduction of the joint is usually done manually, pulling the arm or leg away from the joint, and then angling the misaligned bone back into its proper position. The person who sustained the dislocation may experience significant pain following the injury, and may experience immediate relief once the joint has been manually forced or angled back into position. The patient may continue to feel some pain after the dislocation has been resolved due to the soft tissue damage that accompanied the injury. Once the joint dislocation has been resolved, the healing process of the soft tissues may start.

Younger individuals may be more protected from lasting soft tissue injuries associated with joint dislocations because of the relative pliability of their ligaments. Ligaments are composed of tissues that give them strength and flexibility, and our ligaments lose some of their flexibility as we get older. Flexible ligaments may be able to be stretched without tearing or being seriously injured. Older people are likely to sustain tears to one or more ligaments if they suffer a dislocation.

While a dislocated joint is relatively easy to fix, the stretching and tearing of ligaments may not heal more slowly, if at all. If ligaments are stretched, they may become loose, causing long-term instability of that joint. Also, someone who has sustained a dislocation of a particular joint is much more likely to have a dislocation occur again, to that joint. A lifelong strength and flexibility program may be the best way of preventing these types of injuries from occurring as you get older. Maintaining ligament and tendon flexibility may help to prevent these types of injuries, or limit their severity if they do occur.

While dislocations are more likely to occur in the joints of the limbs, and where the extremities connect to our trunk, dislocations known as subluxations are more likely to occur in our spine. A subluxation is a partial dislocation of a joint.

Subluxations may be even more harmful to the body, because we may have them and not know it. Patients may feel pain from subluxations of the spine, due to the added pressures onto the intervertebral discs and facet joints of the spine. As with completely dislocated joints, the ligaments of the joint capsules in the spine may be affected, causing damage. Generally, subluxations of the spine and other joints in the body do not show up on most types of medical imaging studies, which are the diagnostic tests of choice for most doctors. To diagnose and treat subluxations, if they occur, patients may have more success with doctors and osteopaths, who may be able to observe them through hands on manipulations.