A joint dislocation, or subluxation, occurs when a force overpowers the strengthen of the body so much so that the momentum propels the joint out of the socket. The most common dislocations occur in the shoulder, in both children and adults.
We, here at CHAMPION Performance and Physical Therapy, hear stories all the time of patients dislocating a joint and popping it back into place themselves. Our schedule includes a number of patients who suffered from a subluxation at all times, more often than not a shoulder, kneecap, or hip.
When you suffer from a dislocated joint, or your child suffers from a dislocation, it's imperative that you do not attempt to reset the joint on your own - seek medical attention immediately. While under certain circumstances the joint may pop back into place naturally and without aid, if it does not, do not force it back into place.
Depending upon the type of dislocation, physicians may take X-rays of the dislocated joint prior to resetting it to ensure there's a clear path. It's extremely possible that when a subluxation occurs, the nerves and blood supply through that joint will shift into a more vulnerable location. Trapping nerves can cut off the neural supply to certain areas of the joint and even lead to nerve damage. Blood supply getting caught after an improper reduction can lead to serious problems, including necrosis, or tissue death due to lack of blood supply, or clots that can travel to lead to life-threatening problems such as heart dysfunction or a stroke. It's also a possibility that small muscle tendons can get caught in the joint after an unprofessional reduction, which can cause severe pain, and will likely result in a surgical procedure that could've otherwise been prevented.
This doesn't necessarily mean you have to go to the emergency room - maybe try an urgent care clinic or contact a friend who has orthopedic or trauma medical training. This includes: a licensed physician (family practitioner is fine), a trauma nurse, EMT, or even a veterinarian. Other immediate options include someone who is close by who is a licensed chiropractor or physical therapist to at least assess the situation and definitively diagnoses the necessity of the urgent care or emergency room - although that's typically going to be fairly obvious.
I've personally dislocated a shoulder twice. The first time I went to an urgent care because I was on the mountains in Colorado, and the second time was in my own house. A neighbor of mine is a chiropractor, and after taking a look, suggested I just go into the emergency room that's close by. Do not go out of your way to seek attention from a chiropractor or physical therapist, as they typically have no immediate way to confirm there is no risk of further damage.