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    Shoulder and Elbow - Stiff Elbow

    Overview
    Causes
    Risk Factors
    Symptoms
    Diagnosis
    Treatment
    Prevention
    Where to Seek Treatment
    Return to Shoulder and 
        Elbow Injuries
    Singapore General Hospital
    Contributed by Dept of Orthopaedic Surgery

    Overview

    The elbow is a joint that is easily complicated by stiffness after injury or disease. This is because the elbow actually comprises 3 separate joints that fits extremely well together, and is in close proximity to a host of soft tissue structures.


    Causes


    Post-injury stiffness
    The most common cause in our population is post-injury stiffness of the elbow.

    Other diseases
    A stiff elbow joint can also arise due to other diseases like infection and auto-inflammatory conditions (for example, rheumatoid arthritis).

    Congenital problems
    Certain congenital problems may also present with elbow stiffness.


    Risk Factors


    Prolonged immobilisation
    Patients with prolonged immobilisation of the elbow joint due to injury or illness are at highest risk of developing elbow stiffness.

    Damage to joint
    Diseases like infection that lead to damage of the joint surface (also known as the articular cartilage) also predispose to elbow stiffness.


    Symptoms


    You will experience limited range of motion in the elbow when bending the elbow, and sometimes in forearm rotation as well. Pain may or may not be an associated symptom depending on the underlying problem.


    Diagnosis


    You should seek medical treatment when you sustain injuries to the elbow that results in severe pain and swelling. Often, seeking traditional forms of treatment without prior evaluation with x-rays to exclude fractures can lead to long term damage of the elbow joint, pain and stiffness.

    If you experience spontaneous onset of elbow pain without any prior history of trauma, you should seek medical advice to rule out any serious elbow disease, as delays in treatment may lead to a poorer outcome.


    Treatment Options

    The exact treatment for elbow stiffness depends on the underlying cause, and the extent to which the elbow joint itself and its surrounding soft tissue structures are affected. Generally, the treatment of elbow stiffness hinges on the use of splints, exercises, and judicious surgery. Surgical release of the stiff elbow may sometimes be used if conservative methods fail, or if these measures are unsuitable.


    Prevention

    In patients with elbow injury, stable fixation of fractures and early mobilisation is the best form of prevention of elbow stiffness. In diseases which can result in articular cartilage damage, early and effective treatment to control the disease and limit articular cartilage is needed to minimise long term elbow stiffness.

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