The post-traumatic stiff elbow: A review

Ahsan Akhtar*, Ben Hughes, Adam C. Watts

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (journal)peer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)


Upper extremity function is highly dependent on elbow motion in order to adequately position the hand in space. Loss of this motion due to stiffness following trauma can cause patients substantial disability, leading to difficulties with performing activities of daily living. Post-traumatic elbow stiffness is challenging to treat, and therefore prevention is of paramount importance. Key measures that can be used to prevent elbow stiffness are early surgical intervention for fracture or joint instability, as well as active mobilisation, which helps to prevent oedema and an increase in viscosity of inflammatory exudates. Other options include splinting and continuous passive mobilisation. Once non-operative methods of addressing post-traumatic stiffness have been exhausted, arthrolysis of the stiff elbow can be performed via open or arthroscopic means depending on the type of pathology involved (intrinsic or extrinsic contracture) and experience of the surgeon with elbow arthroscopy. The particular open approach used depends on several factors, which include the formation and location of any heterotopic ossification present. Improvements in range of motion can be expected with both open and arthroscopic techniques, which can be effective and rewarding for patients. Post-operative rehabilitation, particularly early active mobilisation, should be considered essential in order to optimise patient outcomes following surgery. This review aims to explore elbow stiffness following traumatic aetiology, assessing its pathogenesis and prevention, as well as reviewing surgical treatment options and post-operative rehabilitation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)125-131
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Clinical Orthopaedics and Trauma
Early online date1 Aug 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2021


  • Contracture
  • Elbow
  • Prevention
  • Stiffness
  • Trauma


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