Understanding the elbow
Although the elbow joint may appear to be a simple hinge, it is much more complex than that. The elbow is both a ball and socket joint and a hinge joint. It is surrounded by muscles and tendons that allow you to flex and extend your arm as well as rotate your hand. The elbow joint is formed by the joining of the humerus, ulna, and radius bones which are kept in proper alignment by ligaments.
Overuse during everyday and athletic activities lead to many of the common orthopedic conditions that arise in elbows. when left untreated, an injured elbow will keep you from enjoying life and can often become a chronic problem.
Common Elbow Injuries
Elbow dislocations are not a common type injury. They usually occur when the arm is extended and the hand is outstretched while attempting to brace for an impact. As force is driven through the arm, the elbow can rotate out of its socket. A complete dislocation is fairly obvious and extremely painful. However, a partial dislocation can be more difficult to detect. The joint can seem normal as the bones can spontaneously relocate but if the ligaments are damaged then partial dislocations will continue to occur. X-ray is the best way to determine whether an elbow has been partially dislocated.
Elbow (Olecranon) Bursitis
The fluid filled sacks that serve as a cushion between bones and tissue throughout the body are referred to as bursa. Elbow bursitis occurs in the olecranon bursa which is located at the tip of the elbow. The olecranon bursa is normally flat but it accumulates fluid when irritated and bursitis occurs. Causes of elbow bursitis:
- Trauma such as a blow to the elbow
- Prolonged pressure such as repetitive leaning on hard surfaces
- Infection in the bursa
- Medical conditions such as gout or arthritis
Tennis Elbow is a painful condition caused by overuse that is most commonly associated with racket sports. However, several other sports can cause the condition as well. The symptoms develop gradually. Repetitive swing motions cause tenderness and pain to occur on the outside of the elbow. This is a result of damage to the tendons and a specific forearm muscle. Approximately 80% to 95% of people who suffer tennis elbow are able to recover without surgery. Types of nonsurgical treatments:
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicines
- Physical therapy
- Steroid injections
- Extracorporeal shock wave therapy
The olecranon the bony “tip” of the elbow positioned directly under the skin with little protection from muscle or soft tissue. It can be broken easily if it takes a direct blow. A fracture is extremely painful making any kind of elbow movement difficult if not impossible.
Simple fractures may be treated with a splint until the bone can heal. Unfortunately, in most olecranon fractures the pieces of bone move out of place and surgery is mandatory to repair the anatomy of the elbow and restore motion in the joint.
Orthopedic surgeons can inspect, diagnose, and repair problematic conditions inside a joint using a minimally invasive procedure known as Arthroscopy. This procedure utilizes an arthroscope which is a fiber-optic viewing device carrying a miniature camera. The surgeon will make multiple small incisions through which the arthroscope and pencil-sized instruments can be inserted into the joint. The camera on the arthroscope displays real-time video on a computer screen to guide the surgical instruments performing the procedure.
The benefits of a minimally invasive arthroscopy procedure include less tissue damage, quicker recovery times, minimal scarring, and less discomfort after the procedure.
Total Elbow Replacement
Elbow joint replacement is less common than total knee or hip replacement surgery. However, it can be just as successful in relieving joint pain and getting people back to the everyday activities that they enjoy. Muscles, ligaments, and tendons hold the elbow joint together.
An artificial elbow joint consists of a metal and plastic hinge with two metal stems. The stems are designed to fit inside the hollow canal the bone. During an elbow replacement surgery, the damaged areas of the ulna and humerus bone are replaced with the artificial joint.