Your browser is not supported. Please upgrade to a modern browser in order to use all the features of the UKHC web application: Firefox | Chrome | Microsoft Edge
Skip to main content
close menu
close menu

Search UK HealthCare

Stiff elbow

woman with elbow pain

The hinge joint of the elbow is designed to bend, straighten and rotate. A stiff elbow, also known as elbow contracture, is diagnosed when the elbow’s range of motion is limited, often due to a joint injury or medical condition such as arthritis or bursitis. Elbow stiffness limits the ability to rotate the arm, pick up objects, and bend and straighten the elbow.

  • Symptoms

    • Elbow pain
    • Limited range of motion
    • Swelling or tenderness of the elbow
  • Prevention

    • Elbow stiffness can be caused by trauma, such as a fracture, dislocation or burn injury, so use precautions and safety equipment when engaging in potentially dangerous activities.
  • Risk factors

    • Arthritis
    • Bone growth into the muscles or tendons
    • Breaks, dislocation or other elbow trauma
    • Bursitis
    • Soft tissue scarring around the elbow
  • Diagnosis

    • Imaging studies. X-ray and CT scans may be performed to detect loose bodies or soft tissue abnormalities that interfere with movement.
    • Medical history and symptom review. The doctor will discuss the patient’s lifestyle, review symptoms and previous injuries, and discuss treatments the patient has already tried.
    • Physical examination. The doctor will examine the elbow to determine range of motion limitations.
  • Treatment

    Conservative treatment can include heat or ice, rest and over-the-counter medications, as well as:

    Surgical treatment can range from removal of the structures that prevent the elbow from moving, such as bone fragments or scar tissue, to total joint replacement.

  • Follow-up care

    • Patients should follow their doctor’s recommendations for restrictions on elbow movement during treatment.
    • Continue to perform the exercises your physical or occupational therapist recommends.
    • Use ice or heat to relieve pain and swelling. • Over-the-counter or prescription medications can be taken to relieve pain.