The hinge joint of the elbow is designed to bend, straighten and rotate. A stiff elbow, also known as elbow contracture, is diagnosed when the elbow’s range of motion is limited, often due to a joint injury or medical condition such as arthritis or bursitis. Elbow stiffness limits the ability to rotate the arm, pick up objects, and bend and straighten the elbow.
- Elbow pain
- Limited range of motion
- Swelling or tenderness of the elbow
- Elbow stiffness can be caused by trauma, such as a fracture, dislocation or burn injury, so use precautions and safety equipment when engaging in potentially dangerous activities.
- Bone growth into the muscles or tendons
- Breaks, dislocation or other elbow trauma
- Soft tissue scarring around the elbow
- Imaging studies. X-ray and CT scans may be performed to detect loose bodies or soft tissue abnormalities that interfere with movement.
- Medical history and symptom review. The doctor will discuss the patient’s lifestyle, review symptoms and previous injuries, and discuss treatments the patient has already tried.
- Physical examination. The doctor will examine the elbow to determine range of motion limitations.
Conservative treatment can include heat or ice, rest and over-the-counter medications, as well as:
- Stretching and strength training
- Splinting or bracing
- Physical or occupational therapy
Surgical treatment can range from removal of the structures that prevent the elbow from moving, such as bone fragments or scar tissue, to total joint replacement.
- Patients should follow their doctor’s recommendations for restrictions on elbow movement during treatment.
- Continue to perform the exercises your physical or occupational therapist recommends.
- Use ice or heat to relieve pain and swelling.
- Over-the-counter or prescription medications can be taken to relieve pain.