Recurrent and Chronic Elbow Instability

Elbow instability is a looseness within the elbow joint which might cause the joint to catch, pop, or slip out of place in the course of particular arm movements. It most often occurs due to an injury-- usually, an elbow dislocation. This kind of trauma may damage the bone and ligaments that surround the elbow joint and work to keep it stable. Many individuals in the Central Missouri area with orthopedic problems are beset with elbow instability.

Whenever the elbow is loose and repeatedly feels as though it might slip out of place, it is referred to as reoccurring or chronic elbow instability. Dr. Kathleen Weaver has some important insights about chronic elbow instability.


Posterior Cruciate Ligament Tear Bursitis Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Chronic Neck Pain Mexico MissouriYour elbow is comprised of your upper arm bone (humerus) and the two bones within your lower arm (radius and ulna).

On the inner and outer sides of the elbow, tough ligaments (collateral ligaments) hold the elbow joint together and work to avoid dislocation. The 2 necessary ligaments are the lateral (outside) ligament and ulnar (inside) collateral ligament. The muscles which cross the elbow joint likewise contribute to the stability of the joint.


There are three different varieties of recurrent elbow instability:

  • Posterolateral rotatory instability. The elbow slides in and out of the joint as a result of an injury of the lateral collateral ligament complex, which is a soft tissue structure located on the exterior of the elbow joint.
  • Valgus instability. The elbow is unsteady because of an injury of the ulnar collateral ligament, which is a soft tissue structure situated on the inside of the elbow.
  • Varus posteromedial rotatory instability. The elbow slides in and out of the joint due to an injury of the lateral collateral ligament complex, along with a fracture (break) of the coronoid section of the ulna bone on the inside of the elbow.


There are different causes for each and every of the various patterns of reoccurring elbow instability:

  • Posterolateral rotatory instability is the most prevalent type of recurrent elbow instability. It is normally caused by a trauma, like a fall on an outstretched hand. It might likewise develop because of a prior surgery, or longstanding elbow deformity.
  • Valgus instability is most often brought on by repetitive stress as viewed in overhead athletes (such as baseball pitchers). Like the other types of recurrent elbow instability, it may also result from a traumatic event.
  • Varus posteromedial rotatory instability is normally caused by a traumatic event, such as a fall.


Recurrent elbow instability can induce locking, catching, or clicking of the elbow joint. You may also get a sense of the elbow feeling like it might pop out of place. This feeling often takes place while pushing off from a chair.

Overhead athletes might have pain on the inside of their elbow joint when throwing, or a decrease in throwing velocity (speed).

Doctor Examination

Medical History and Physical Examination

Right after exploring your symptoms and medical history, your physician at Audrain Orthopaedics or wherever else will examine your elbow joint. He or she will check to see whether it is tender in any place or whether or not there is a malformation. Your doctor is going to have you move your arm in a number of different directions to check for instability or a popping or sliding sensation. He or she will also assess your arm strength and make sure there are no injuries to your nerves.

Numerous cases of elbow instability may be diagnosed from the medical history and physical exam outcomes. If you live in Columbia, Fulton, Centralia, or Mexico, MO, Audrain Orthopaedics is the place to go for your exam.

Imaging Tests

X-rays. Although x-rays can not show soft tissues like the ligaments, they might be useful in pinpointing fractures, dislocations, or subtle changes in alignment of the elbow joint.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). This scan produces better pictures of soft tissues, and may show tears within the ligaments, muscles, or tendons. MRI scans are typically not required for a diagnosis of elbow instability.


Nonsurgical treatment choices are successful at managing symptoms in a lot of patients with valgus instability. However, a very competitive overhead athlete who has a complete tearing of the ulnar collateral ligament might require surgery to go back to full function.

Some cases of posterolateral rotatory instability can also improve with nonsurgical treatment, but surgery might be required in cases where there is chronic stress of the lateral collateral ligament.

Varus posteromedial instability nearly always demands surgery to mend the broken bone and the ligament injury. Without surgical treatment, this injury may lead to continued instability and early arthritis of the elbow joint.

Nonsurgical Treatment

Nonsurgical management includes:

  • Physical therapy. Certain exercises to build up the muscles about the elbow joint may greatly improve symptoms.
  • Activity modification. Symptoms may also be relieved by limiting activities which cause pain or feelings of instability.
  • Bracing. A brace may really help to reduce painful movements and stabilize the elbow.
  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication. Drugs such as aspirin and ibuprofen may be helpful with pain during the preliminary injury.

Surgical Treatment

Chronic elbow instability may demand surgical treatment to return to total utilization of the arm and elbow.

Ligament reconstruction. The majority of ligament tears can not be sutured (stitched) back together. To surgically repair the injury and bring back elbow strength and stability, the ligament must be reconstructed. During the procedure, the doctor replaces the torn ligament with a tissue graft. This graft functions as a new ligament. In many cases, the ligament can be reconstructed utilizing one of the patient's own tendons. In some cases an allograft (cadaver graft) will be utilized.

Fracture fixation. People with varus posteromedial rotatory instability need treatment to repair the damaged coronoid bone, as well as a repair of the torn ligament. In the course of the operation, the damaged bone fragments are rearranged into normal positioning and then kept together with special screws and sometimes a metal plate.


During the first week right after surgical operation, you are going to most likely wear a splint so as to protect your elbow as it begins healing.

Rehabilitation generally starts in the second week after surgery. The splint is going to be replaced with a brace which limits how far you can bend or straighten your elbow, but allows you to start exercises to improve range of motion. With a commitment to rehabilitation, patients may regain total range of motion by 6 weeks after surgery.

Strengthening exercises are often suggested 3 months after the procedure, and most patients go back to full activities by 6 months to a year after surgery.

Throwing athletes might require as much as a year of rehabilitation prior to returning to competitive sports.

Future Developments

Recurrent elbow instability is a fairly new concept. Future research will give a much better understanding of the interaction between the muscles, ligaments, and bone tissues. Newer methods are regularly evolving for reconstructing the ligaments. Research is going to result in better ways to diagnose, treat, and recover from these complicated injuries.

The fact of the matter is that elbow instability is not something you can brush off. You have to get a professional opinion if you ever intend to strengthen your condition. Whenever you are ready to take that essential step, please think about going to Dr. Kathleen Weaver at Audrain Orthopaedics. For the folks of Mexico, MO and the encompassing area, Dr. Weaver is the specialist to go to for questions on elbow instability and related orthopedic issues.

I just want to thank you for everything you have done for me and my family.  You use not only your expert knowledge but your kind and caring heart in all you do, and it shows.

J. Z. age 23