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What is Elbow Stiffness?

Elbow stiffness is a condition characterized by a restricted range of motion of the elbow causing difficulty bending, straightening, or rotating your arm. Elbow stiffness may be caused due to injury, disease, or deformity.

Causes of Elbow Stiffness

Elbow stiffness may be associated with:

  • Elbow injury causing a sprain, fracture, or dislocation
  • Previous surgery to the joint
  • Heterotopic ossification (excess bone formation in the joint after injury or surgery)
  • Infection
  • Inflammatory conditions such as osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis
  • Congenital problems

Symptoms of Elbow Stiffness

The symptoms include a limited range of elbow movement, and depending on the underlying cause, elbow pain. The pain associated with the condition may vary from person to person.

Diagnosis of Elbow Stiffness

Your doctor will check your medical history and perform a physical examination to form the preliminary diagnosis. Imaging techniques such as X-rays or a CT scan may be ordered to obtain a detailed view of the elbow to confirm the diagnosis and rule out other conditions.

Treatments for Elbow stiffness

Treatment methods for elbow stiffness include:

Non-operative treatments such as:

  • Continuous passive motion machines
  • Physical therapy exercises
  • Manipulation
  • Serial casting of the joint
  • Splinting
  • Administration of NSAID’s
  • Botulinum toxin injections

However, non-operative options have limitations and in complex cases where these treatment methods fail to produce results or when pain is persistent, surgery may be recommended. Stiff elbow release surgery is usually performed for cases in which the range of movement is almost reduced by half. Usually, keyhole surgeries are performed to treat the condition; however, some cases require an open incision. Release of the ulnar nerve may be performed to prevent its damage during surgery. This is especially required in conditions in which elbow movement beyond right angles is difficult or painful.

Prevention methods

Elbow stiffness can be prevented in many cases with proper care and timely treatment. Early mobilization and proper therapy can help avoid stiffness in cases of elbow injuries and fractures. Also, in cases where diseases can damage the articular cartilage, timely and proper treatment can help in minimizing cartilage damage and avoiding long term elbow stiffness.

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