Elbow Stiffness

Elbow contracture refers to a stiff elbow with limited range of motion. It is a common complication following elbow surgery, fractures, dislocations, and burns.

The normal functional range of motion for an elbow is 30-145 degrees. A stiff or contracted elbow may be diagnosed when the ability to extend or flex the arm is lessened by 30 degrees or more. Flexion contractures greater than 45 degrees will significantly affect the patient’s ability to perform activities of daily living such as bathing and eating.

What are the symptoms of stiff elbow ?

Symptoms of elbow contracture include the following:

  • Stiffness of the elbow
  • Inability to fully extend or flex the arm
  • Usually no pain is associated with elbow contractures.

What are the causes of stiff elbow?

Causes and risk factors associated with elbow contracture include:

  • Elbow trauma
  • Elbow surgery
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Loose bodies
  • Osteophytes or bone spurs
  • Malunions of fractures
  • Joint infection
  • Burns

How is stiff elbow diagnosed?

Elbow conditions should be evaluated by an orthopaedic surgeon for proper diagnosis and treatment. Your surgeon will review your medical history and perform a physical examination and diagnostic studies such as X-ray, CT scan, MRI, and nerve conduction studies.

What are the treatment options?

Conservative Treatment: Conservative treatment options for elbow contracture can successfully treat most elbow contractures of less than 6 months duration. These options will be prescribed by your doctor based on your particular condition and include the following:

  • Physical Therapy
  • Splinting
  • Casting
  • Manipulation to treat with hands by mechanical means in a skilful manner

Surgical treatment of elbow contracture

If conservative treatment options fail to improve the elbow contracture despite the patient’s adherence to physical therapy, surgery may be recommended.

Capsular Release is a surgical procedure to release the contracture associated with elbow stiffness. This surgery may be performed through a large, open incision or arthroscopically through much smaller incisions. Arthroscopic Elbow Capsular Release is a minimally invasive surgery performed in a hospital operating room under general or regional anaesthesia.

Your surgeon will discuss the options with you and decide which method is appropriate for your condition.