Elbow Instability

Elbow Instability

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At the Andrews Institute, our team of pediatric orthopaedic and sports medicine specialists is dedicated to treating conditions that affect children’s normal activities. We provide our young patients with the most advanced, effective diagnostic tests and minimally invasive therapies to treat elbow injuries like instability.

Elbow instability occurs when the elbow joint is loose, allowing it to catch or slide out of place. When an unstable elbow fully slides out of place, it’s called a dislocation.

Often, nonsurgical treatment options such as activity modification and physical therapy will help your child heal. When symptoms worsen, chronic elbow instability may require surgery to repair stretched or torn tendons and ligaments. Our surgeons offer a minimally invasive arthroscopic approach.

We also treat other injuries associated with elbow instability:

  • Overuse injuries, including Little League elbow
  • Articular cartilage injury
  • Osteochondritis dissecans
Symptoms

Symptoms of Elbow Instability

The elbow is made up of bones, ligaments and tendons that work together to stabilize the joint.

Common causes for elbow instability include:

  • Falling on an outstretched arm
  • Poor throwing technique
  • High level of flexibility in the joints

Common symptoms of elbow instability include:  

  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Warmth and redness
  • Bruising
  • Deformity in the elbow joint
  • Difficulty moving the arm
Tests and Diagnosis

Diagnosing Elbow Instability

Often, our physicians can diagnose elbow instability with a physical examination and a review of your child’s medical history. Tests may also help determine the problem and rule out other conditions such as an elbow dislocation.

Diagnostic tests may include:

  • Physical exam: Assesses movement, appearance and sensation in your child’s elbow and arm muscles
  • X-ray: Uses invisible electromagnetic energy beams to take detailed images of the bones of the elbow
  • CT (computed tomography) scan: Uses X-rays to make detailed images of the elbow joint
  • MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan: Uses magnetic fields and radio waves to take detailed pictures of the elbow joint, checking for tears in the ligaments and tendons
Treatments

Treating Elbow Instability

Treatment for elbow instability depends on the severity of your child’s injury. Most often, our physicians can use nonsurgical treatments for elbow instability.

Nonsurgical treatments include:

  • Rest, ice, compression and elevation
  • Medication to help manage pain and swelling
  • Activity modification
  • Splinting to immobilize and promote healing
  • Physical therapy and rehabilitation

When elbow instability starts to affect your child’s normal activities, we may recommend surgery to repair damaged muscles, tendons or ligaments. If surgery is needed, our surgeons offer a minimally invasive arthroscopic approach.

FAQs

Elbow Instability FAQs

How common is elbow instability in children?

Elbow instability is quite common in children because of their growing bones and active lifestyles. Children who play sports that involve overhead movement such as baseball, softball and gymnastics are more likely to suffer elbow injuries that cause elbow instability. 

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