Common Conditions of the Elbow: Loose Bodies

This condition is most commonly seen in higher level raquet sports players (particularly tennis) although may arise for a number of reasons. A small piece of cartilage (and sometimes bone) is knocked of the inside of the joint. This floats around the joint and can become wedged between two of the articulating surfaces causing them to jam together temporarily. It may also be seen in arthritis.

What are the signs and symptoms?

The elbow will "lock" partway through a movement. The sensation is of a mechanical block to movement. Usually there is little or no pain. The elbow will usually unlock after a few seconds as it is moved. Occasionally the joint will be noted to swell or a small mobile lump may be felt within the joint.

How is the diagnosis made?

The doctor will listen to the description of events and examine the elbow. X-Rays will also be taken to determine whether there is a piece of bone involved. Usually no further investigation is needed.

What is the initial treatment?

Treatment depends of the frequency of the locking and the inconvenience to the patient. If it is a rare occurence and causes no bother then it may be left alone. On occasion the lose fragment will stick down to an area of the joint out of the way and cause no further symptoms.

If initial treatment doesn't work, what's next?

If the locking is a repeated problem the loose bodies can be removed using the arthroscope. Occasionally a larger incision may have to be made.

Removal of loose bodies

How can further injury be prevented?

Once the loose bodies have been removed they will cause no further problems. It is possible to generate new loose bodies in the same manner as the first, however it is difficult to modify anything which will prevent this as it is a relatively rare occurrence.