The elbow joint is made up of three bones: the radius, ulna and humerus. Rotation, extension and flexion of the arm are provided by this joint, with the surrounding muscles controlling wrist and finger movement.
Most of us will experience elbow pain at one point in our lives; this may be owing to an injury sustained during physical activity, overuse of the elbow, or old age. In some cases, conditions can be treated with medication or physiotherapy. However, in more severe cases and in instances where non-surgical treatment is not successful, surgery will need to be considered.
Apart from an injury, these things can cause arm pain.
|Main symptoms||Possible cause|
|Pain, stiffness, difficulty moving, swelling||tendonitis, for example tennis elbow|
|Pain, tenderness, bruising, swelling||sprains and strains|
|Pain, stiffness coming down from the shoulder||frozen shoulder|
|Pain and stiffness in the joints||arthritis|
|Temperature of 38C or above, feeling shivery, skin broken around the shoulder|
|inflamed shoulder (bursitis)|
If you are concerned about any of these symptoms talk to your GP for a referral to one of our specialists.
Treatment to release a stiff elbow is typically performed if the patient is suffering from pain when making a fist or opening their fingers or is unable to straighten their arm more than halfway.
Stiffness of the elbow can be the result of inflammation within the joint, scar tissue building on tendons or bone spurs – bony overgrowths that form in some joints.
Elbow stiffness is often caused by a fall or injury to the elbow and occasionally degenerative problems like rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis. Common causes of pain in the elbow include sporting sprains, conditions caused by overuse like tennis elbow or golfer’s elbow, a build-up of fluid over the elbow joint (bursitis) or trapped nerves.
You will be examined to look for signs of swelling. Problems inside a joint can often be diagnosed after a CT, X-ray or MRI scan.
If the problem is caused by an inflammation we may recommend nonsurgical treatment such as anti-inflammatory medication or a cortisone 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.
If it is thought that you need surgery to treat your condition, an open surgery or arthroscopic (keyhole) procedure to release a stiff elbow will remove spurs on the ends of bones, extract any loose bodies within the elbow or release trapped nerves.
An elbow arthroscopy will allow doctors to diagnose, inspect and operate on your elbow. The operation involves making small incisions in the elbow joint. Your doctor will then insert a small camera (arthroscope) and small surgical instruments into the incisions in order to operate. When undergoing the operation, most patients are put under full general anaesthetic.
The most common forms of elbow arthroscopy procedures include:
- Treatment for osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis
- Removal of bone fragments or cartilage
- Release of scar tissue
- Treatment of tennis elbow
A consultation with your doctor will determine if an arthroscopy is the most suitable option for you.
Funny Bone – Ulnar Nerve Release Surgery
The ulnar nerve goes around the rear of the inner elbow, an area referred to as the funny bone. The ulnar nerve then goes through a tight tunnel between your forearm muscles. Ulnar nerve compression results in numbness in your ring and little fingers, though it can be resolved by ulnar nerve release surgery.
The operation can take up to three-quarters of an hour and your surgeon will cut any tight tissue that is compressing the nerve over the back of your elbow on the inner side. Sometimes a piece of bone is removed, or a nerve is shifted to lie in front of the elbow.
What are the alternatives?
With mild symptoms which are mostly confined to the night, a splint may help to hold your elbow straight in bed.
You should be able to go home the same day. Keep your arm elevated for the first couple of days. It is important to gently exercise your fingers, elbow and shoulder to prevent stiffness.
Regular exercise should help you to return to normal activities and your symptoms may continue to improve for up to six months after surgery.