Shoulder and Elbow

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Loose Body in the Elbow


The elbow is a complex joint that allows bending and straightening (flexion and extension), and forearm rotation (pronation, palm down; and supination, palm up). The elbow is formed by the joining of three bones: the upper arm (humerus), the forearm on the pinky finger side (ulna), and the forearm on the thumb side (radius). The surfaces of these bones, where they meet to form the joint, are covered with articular cartilage, a smooth substance that protects the bones and acts as a natural cushion to absorb forces across the joint. A thin, smooth tissue, called synovial membrane, covers all remaining surfaces inside the elbow joint. In a healthy elbow, this membrane makes a small amount of fluid that lubricates the cartilage and eliminates almost all friction as you bend and rotate your arm.

Held together by muscles, ligaments and tendons, the elbow is a combination hinge and pivot joint. The hinge part of the elbow allows the arm bend like the hinge of a door, while the pivot part makes it possible for the lower arm to twist and rotate. There are several muscles, nerves and tendons that cross at the elbow.


Loose bodies are small fragments of bone or cartilage that have broken off inside a joint. As these fragments float free within the elbow, they can cause pain and even get caught in the moving parts of the joint.


A loose body in the elbow can cause pain and stiffness. You may experience a "catching" sensation or be aware of something moving around inside the joint. If the fragment becomes caught in the joint's moving parts, the elbow may feel as if it is locked, or stuck, and then click free.


A loose body in the elbow usually forms as a result of another problem in the elbow joint. Osteoarthritis is the most frequent cause, but loose bodies can also form after an elbow fracture. This condition can also be caused by participation in certain sports or other activities that place tremendous stress on the elbow joint, such as heavy manual work or weightlifting.

Nonsurgical Treatment

Many people live with loose bodies in the elbow without difficulty. However, if symptoms become a problem and it has been determined that the pain is caused by the loose bodies, not by the osteoarthritis of the elbow, surgery may be helpful.


Removing loose bodies from the joint surgically may resolve painful symptoms. This can often be done with elbow arthroscopy. Using minimally invasive techniques causes less surgical trauma to muscles, allowing for an earlier rehabilitation and recovery.

It is important to note that while surgical treatment may provide relief from painful symptoms caused by loose bodies, it will not provide a cure or resolve symptoms resulting from the primary problem of osteoarthritis.

With any surgery there are some risks, and these vary from person to person. Complications are typically minor, treatable and unlikely to affect your final outcome. Your orthopaedic surgeon will speak to you prior to surgery to explain any potential risks and complications that may be associated with your procedure.

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