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Elbow stabilisation

Elbow stabilisation is a procedure used to repair instability in the elbow joint.   

Elbow stabilisation

Elbow stabilisation is a procedure used to repair instability in the elbow joint.  

Elbow stabilisation

What is elbow stabilisation?

Elbow stabilisation treats elbow instability, usually resulting from a fracture or dislocation. The elbow typically becomes unstable after an instance of trauma; for example, a direct hit to the elbow or a fall. Instability can also arise from repetitive strain. The latter is particularly common in people whose lifestyle or work requires repetitive, often overhead arm movements. It also affects people who have experienced trauma or had previous surgery in the area.

The symptoms of elbow instability include a range of uncomfortable sensations in the elbow joint. You may feel pain on the inside of the elbow, or notice your elbow locking into place, clicking, or catching during movements. If you are a sportsperson, you might also notice that your ability to throw and catch fast-moving objects has declined over time.  

The first step in the process of diagnosing elbow instability is a physical examination. Following a review of your medical history, your doctor will guide you through a set of arm movements. Tests are carried out to check for clicking, popping, or sliding sensations that could indicate instability. Additional methods of diagnosis include X-rays, which can be useful in detecting underlying causes like fractures, dislocations, and misalignment. MRI scans can detect any related issues in ligaments, muscles, or tendons. Anaesthetic may be used to relax the arm muscles to complete the tests as any muscle tension can prevent an accurate diagnosis.

There are a range of non-surgical treatment options for elbow instability. Patients with mild to moderate symptoms are advised to begin with a course of pain medication, physiotherapy, and braces to stabilise the injury. For more severe elbow instability, surgical treatment may be the best option. Typically, the surgery involves repairing torn ligaments around the elbow joint, pinning down any fractures for stability, and in some cases, replacing the damaged ligament with a tendon graft. 

Most people who undergo treatment for elbow stability can expect to regain full range of motion and strength in their arms within months, although the results do vary based on biological and lifestyle factors. If you were born with naturally loose ligaments or play regular sport which involves throwing things at high speeds, you may be prone to developing chronic instability and require a more intensive surgical option for long-term success. 

Whilst the majority of people who undergo elbow surgery do well and are very happy with their results, there are risks which are specific to elbow surgery in addition to the general risks of surgery. This includes deep infection, injury to the nerves tendons or blood vessels close to the surgical field which may require further surgery, stiffness or loss of motion, developing abnormal bone formation such as heterotopic ossification or myositis ossificans, ongoing pain, instability, fracture of the bones and abnormal pain responses such as Chronic Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS).

Most of these risks are low and less than 5% but stiffness is not uncommon but usually resolves with time with physiotherapy. It is important to be aware of these risks before consenting to surgery. There are also risks relating to the specific type of elbow surgery that you are having, which Dr Cheriachan will discuss with you in detail during your consultation.

Following surgeries like this, proper rehabilitation practice is essential to ensure a complete recovery and prevent injury recurrence. After the initial period of stabilisation, you will need to start a course of gentle elbow exercises under the guise of a physiotherapist. From the second month after surgery, you will focus on increasing your range of motion and building your strength with a set of resistance exercises. After eight weeks, with your doctor’s approval, you may be able to remove your brace. 

Preparing for your visit

Dr Cheriachan consults from Norwest on Wednesdays and Blacktown on Mondays and Thursdays.

Your first visit will be used to carefully assess your condition as well as gathering all related health information. It is important that you bring all relevant documents including scans and x-rays. We also ask that you wear clothing that allows freedom of movement as your visit will include a physical examination. 

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