The posterolateral ligament of the elbow: anatomy and clinical relevance

Dani Rotman, Nawal Bokhari, Andrew Wright, Adam C. Watts*

*Corresponding author for this work

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

1 Citation (Scopus)


Background: The posterolateral capsule was recognized in the past as an important structure for elbow stability but was later disregarded. Two recent biomechanical studies demonstrated its role in preventing posterolateral instability, and thus it should be identified as a distinct ligament: the posterolateral ligament (PLL). This study includes 2 parts: an anatomic study of the PLL's footprint and a collection of 5 cases of pathologic lesions of the PLL. Methods: Six cadaveric upper limbs were assessed. The attachments of the PLL were dissected, the footprints were marked and photographed, and the 2-dimensional area and length were measured. Results: The mean proximal attachment dimensions were a length of 13 mm and an area of 101 mm2, and the mean distal attachment dimensions were 19 mm and 111 mm2, respectively. There were 2 cases of posterolateral elbow pain in professional cricket bowlers, diagnosed radiographically as enthesopathy of the PLL's proximal attachment on the posterior capitellum, probably due to repeated forced hyperextension of the elbow. Both patients were treated by débridement of the posterior capitellum and reattachment of the PLL, with complete resolution of symptoms. In addition, there were 3 cases of clinical posterolateral rotatory instability in young patients. Two athletes had an isolated acute tear of the PLL, and on physical examination, both had positive posterior draw test results but negative pivot-shift test results. Both underwent elbow arthroscopy and repair of the PLL with resolution of symptoms. The third patient had long-standing recurrent elbow instability, following a failed lateral ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction, in the presence of an Osborne-Cotterill lesion. He underwent revision lateral ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction, bone grafting of the bony lesion, and reattachment of the PLL, with complete resolution of symptomatic posterolateral rotatory instability. Conclusions: The PLL of the elbow has a significant role in the elbow's posterolateral stability. Its footprints were described, and its clinical significance was demonstrated in cases of elbow instability caused by acute ligament tears and elbow pain due to ligament enthesopathy. Surgeons should be aware of this structure and potential pathology related to its injury.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)573-582
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Shoulder and Elbow Surgery
Issue number3
Early online date30 Sept 2023
Publication statusPublished - 31 Mar 2024


  • Anatomy Study
  • Cadaveric Dissection With Clinical Examples
  • elbow instability
  • injury
  • lateral ligament complex
  • PLRI
  • posterolateral capsule
  • Posterolateral ligament


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