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What is stiff elbow?

Stiffness of the elbow can be the result of stiffness within the joint, outside the joint or because of the joint. Surgery to release a stiff elbow is typically performed if the patient is unable to straighten out their arm more than halfway or is unable to put their hand to their mouth. 

Causes of stiff elbow

Elbow stiffness often occurs as a result a trauma or injury to the elbow and occasionally elbow arthritis.
Common causes of pain in the elbow include:

  • sprains from overstretching a ligament
  • tennis elbow or golfer’s elbow (a condition caused by overuse called epicondylitis)
  • a build-up of fluid over the elbow joint (bursitis)
  • repetitive strain injury.

Heart conditions such as angina can also cause pain in the arm.

How is stiff elbow diagnosed?

A healthcare professional will physically examine your elbow and look for signs of swelling. You may need to have a further CT, X-ray, or MRI scan.

Treatment for stiff elbow

If the problem is caused by an inflammation, your healthcare professional may suggest anti-inflammatory medication or an anti-inflammatory injection. A doctor may also recommend you visit a physiotherapist, who could suggest movement exercises or a forearm strap designed to relieve pressure on the tendons in your elbow.

In severe cases, a doctor could recommend you for surgery. The release of stiff elbow surgery is often an arthroscopic (keyhole) procedure to remove spurs on the ends of bones and/or remove any loose bodies within the elbow.

Highgate Hospital

17-19 View Road, Highgate, London, N6 4DJ

020 8341 4182
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