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Elbow Instability

What is Elbow Instability?

Elbow dislocations are usually the result of a fall onto the hand. In most cases of dislocation, the elbow will quickly correct itself back into position. In some cases, patients are not aware that the elbow is out of position.

Symptoms of Elbow Instability

After a dislocation the elbow will be swollen and painful and it may be difficult to move. When the elbow dislocates it damages the ligaments that surround the elbow joint, and in some cases a fracture of one or more of the bones around the elbow may also have occurred.  

Treatment for Elbow Instability

Most cases of elbow dislocation with no fracture do not require surgery. They are managed with a sling and physiotherapy. In some cases, however, there may be persistent elbow instability. There are some specific elbow fractures that also increase the chance of developing recurrent elbow instability. Elbow instability can also be the result of a long-term overload of the elbow, rather than an acute dislocation. This is usually seen in throwing athletes, such as baseball pitchers and javelin throwers.

Patients with instability usually have pain and a clicking or clunking sensation when they load the elbow a certain way, such as grappling an opponent in sport or pushing against an object. In some cases, the symptoms can be more subtle, such as pain and reduced accuracy when throwing a ball. 

In most cases, the elbow is only partially coming out of position (subluxing) and it is very uncommon for the elbow to fully dislocate again. As well as difficulties with using the affected elbow, an elbow that is chronically unstable is at risk of developing elbow arthritis over time. 

Elbow instability can usually be corrected by elbow stabilisation surgeryIt can be difficult to identify and is often not picked up until very late. 

At the Melbourne Shoulder and Elbow Centre, our surgeons are experienced in diagnosing and managing elbow instability. This includes identifying and treating fractures that increase the chance of developing elbow instability.