elbow instability

How to spot and treat elbow instability

Elbow instability is a painful and frustrating condition that can occur as a result of significant elbow trauma, dislocation of the elbow, previous elbow surgery, overuse of the joint, or an elbow deformity. Thankfully there are several new and innovative treatments for elbow instability to help restore the joint back to full working order. In this guide we’ll be exploring how to identify elbow instability and the treatment options available to help patients with their condition and ease their symptoms.


What is elbow instability?

Elbow instability is a condition that involves the elbow joint sliding out of alignment. Stability in the joint is formed by three key elements, the bones, ligaments, and muscles. The bones and ligaments that provide support to the elbow can suffer damage when they are subjected to stress or trauma while stabilising the joint, especially if the injury is not detected or treated.

Instability in the elbow is frequently a result of the exterior ligament of the elbow getting dislodged or thinning, usually due to an injury or repeated dislocation. In certain instances, it may also arise from disorders affecting soft tissue and collagen.


Spotting the symptoms of elbow instability

It’s not always easy to spot elbow instability but there are various signs and symptoms to look out for that could be an indication of the condition. These include:

  • A clicking sound when moving the elbow
  • Dislocation or fracture of the joint
  • Locking or catching feeling in the elbow
  • An unstable sensation
  • Pain in the arm during various movements like bending or throwing

Patients have reported that their initial symptoms of instability have been a pain or aching sensation after certain activities. Also, there can sometimes be a feeling of weakness or loss of power during overhead motions.

Diagnosing elbow instability

If you’re a patient and you suspect you might have elbow instability, your doctor will likely carry out a physical examination and review your medical history. This will help them determine whether the symptoms you’re experiencing are from elbow instability. After an initial diagnosis, you will be sent for specialist imaging like an X-ray, MRI, or MRI arthrography to get a more in-depth view of the elbow and check for other potential injuries.


Treating elbow instability

There are several different approaches to treating elbow instability depending on the causes and severity of the condition.

Non-surgical treatment

Often before surgery is considered, there will be nonsurgical options pursued to try and ease the patient’s symptoms of elbow instability. This could include changes to activity with the joint, physical therapy, and possibly an external reduction if there is dislocation of the elbow. Also, a sling or brace might be provided to ensure the joint is kept immobile for a set period of time to allow it to heal. Some basic exercises could be suggested to increase strength and movement in the elbow.

Surgical treatment

For many serious cases of joint instability there is likely to be some surgical treatment needed to restore alignment and stability in the elbow. Surgery can involve repairing or reconstructing the damaged ligaments and realigning the bones if the joint is fractured or dislocated. External fixator devices have historically been used to offer additional support to the joint, but there are associated problems with a higher percentage of reoperations and superficial pin-site infections. In some instances, surgery can be needed to repair damaged blood vessels and nerves.


IJS Elbow System

A good alternative to external fixation, is the unique IJS Elbow System from Skeletal Dynamics. This effective internal fixation device offers temporary stabilisation of the elbow and improves range of motion and functionality in the upper arm. It provides stability between the distal humerus and proximal ulna.

The IJS features a universal baseplate construct, with several sizes of humeral axis pins, guided by precision instrumentation to ensure accurate implant alignment and positioning. All these elements provide the patient with impressive results in improving their elbow stability and there is growing evidence in the medical literature to support its use, see the below examples:



Hopefully this article has given you a greater understanding of elbow instability and the treatment options available, whether you’re an individual looking for more insight on their symptoms, or a surgical practitioner who wants to utilise the latest and most effective orthopaedic technologies to aid their patients.

LEDA Orthopaedics is a specialist UK orthopaedic distributor for a wide range of innovative and niche products to allow patients to get the best possible solutions during their treatment. Contact us today to learn more about the products we supply.