Elbow Instability Causes & Treatment

If you are encountering pain with locking or catching sensations in your elbow, you may be showing signs of elbow instability. Our team of orthopedic specialists will work with you to address your symptoms and create an individualized treatment plan, whether you require surgical or nonsurgical treatment. Our goal is to quickly return you to full mobility and activity by using the latest in diagnostic and treatment techniques.

What is Elbow Instability?

Elbow instability is a condition in which the elbow joint is loose, causing the joint to slide out of alignment or catch. There are three types of elbow instability.

“This loosening of the joint usually happens after the patient has experienced a dislocation or trauma to the elbow,” says Dr. Gregory Gramstad, Rebound shoulder and elbow surgeon. “Patients usually feel as though their elbow will slip out of place, accompanied by pain when they bear weight, throw or make certain movements.”

When the supporting bones and ligaments surrounding the elbow are placed under additional pressure to stabilize the elbow joint, they can become damaged, especially if left undiagnosed and treated.

What are the Symptoms of Elbow Instability?

  • Pain with movement or throwing
  • Unstable sensation
  • Sliding/shifting
  • Locking
  • Catching
  • Clicking

What Causes Elbow Instability?

Most commonly, elbow instability is brought on by a traumatic injury to the elbow or dislocation. Elbow instability causes also include:

  • Impact from a fall
  • Post-surgical result
  • Elbow deformity
  • Overuse injury
  • Other injury

What Treatment is Available for Elbow Instability?

As with many conditions, Rebound specialists typically first like to address elbow instability with nonsurgical treatment, unless the condition is severe.

“Physical therapy is often effective for people with elbow instability,” says Dr. Gramstad. “Our therapy team will help you focus on strengthening the muscles around the joint to relieve pain and stabilize the elbow.”

Rebound specialists may also recommend rest or cutting back on activities that aggravate symptoms. For athletes, this may mean limiting sports activities with repetitive arm usage, throwing, overhead movement, etc. Bracing may also provide relief and keep the elbow into a stabilized position.

“When patients experience recurring elbow instability, or their condition doesn’t improve with nonsurgical treatment, we may recommend surgery,” says Dr. Gramstad. “During surgery, we reconstruct the ligaments surrounding the elbow joint to stabilize it.”

Ligament reconstruction involves replacing torn ligaments with a tissue graft. If a fracture is involved, the surgical procedure requires the additional repair or replacement of the fractured bone. Occasionally, in severe injuries, a cast or external fixator will be used to protect the injury and repair until the bone and tissues have a chance to start healing.

If you are experiencing symptoms of elbow instability, contact us at 1-800-Rebound or request an appointment with one of our specialists.


Related Rebound Resources:

Rebound Elbow Team and Services

Tennis Elbow Causes and Treatments

Cubital Tunnel Syndrome

Shoulder Instability Causes & Treatments

Trusted Resources:

American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) – Recurrent and Chronic Elbow Instability

AAOS – Elbow Dislocation

The Journal of Bone & Joint Surgery – Posterolateral Rotatory Instability of the Elbow