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The elbow is a complex joint formed by the articulation of three bones – the humerus, radius, and ulna. The elbow joint helps in bending or straightening of the arm to 180 degrees and lifting or moving objects.

The bones of the elbow are supported by:

  • Ligaments and tendons
  • Muscles
  • Nerves
  • Blood vessels

Bones and Joints of the Elbow

The elbow joint is formed at the junction of three bones:

  • The humerus (upper arm bone) forms the upper portion of the joint. The lower end of the humerus divides into two bony protrusions known as the medial and lateral epicondyles, which can be felt on either side of the elbow joint.
  • The ulna is the larger bone of the forearm located on the inner surface of the joint. It articulates with the humerus.
  • The radius is the smaller bone of the forearm situated on the outer surface of the joint. The head of the radius is circular and hollow, which allows movement with the humerus. The articulation between the ulna and radius helps the forearm to rotate.

The elbow consists of three joints, namely:

  • The humeroulnar joint is formed between the humerus and ulna and allows flexion and extension of the arm.
  • The humeroradial joint is formed between the radius and humerus and allows movements like flexion, extension, supination, and pronation.
  • The radioulnar joint is formed between the ulna and radius bones and allows rotation of the lower arm.

Articular cartilage lines the articulating regions of the humerus, radius, and ulna. It is a thin, tough, flexible and slippery surface that acts as a shock absorber and cushion to reduce friction between the bones. The cartilage is lubricated with synovial fluid, which further enables the smooth movement of the bones.

Muscles of the Elbow Joint

There are several muscles extending across the elbow joint that help in various movements. These include the following:

  • Biceps brachii: Upper arm muscle, enabling flexion of the arm
  • Triceps brachii: Muscle in the back of the upper arm that extends the arm and fixes the elbow during fine movements
  • Brachialis: Upper arm muscle beneath the biceps, which flexes the elbow towards the body
  • Brachioradialis: Forearm muscle that flexes, straightens and pulls the arm at the elbow
  • Pronator teres: Muscle that extends from the humeral head, across the elbow, and towards the ulna, and helps to turn the palm facing backward
  • Extensor carpi radialis brevis: Forearm muscle that helps in movement of the hand
  • Extensor digitorum: Forearm muscle that helps in movement of the fingers

Ligaments and Tendons of the Elbow

The elbow joint is supported by ligaments and tendons, which provide stability to the joint.

Ligaments are a group of firm tissues that connect bones to other bones. The most important ligaments of the elbow joint are the:

  • Medial or ulnar collateral ligament: Comprised of triangular bands of tissue on the inner side of the elbow joint
  • Lateral or radial collateral ligament: A thin band of tissue on the outer side of the elbow joint
  • Annular ligament: Group of fibers that surround the radial head, and hold the ulna and radius tightly in place during movement of the arm

Together, the medial and lateral ligaments are the main source of stability and hold the humerus and ulna tightly in place during movement of the arm.

The ligaments around a joint combine to form a joint capsule that contains synovial fluid.

Any injury to these ligaments can lead to instability of the elbow joint.

Tendons are bands of connective tissue fibers that connect muscle to bone. The various tendons that surround the elbow joint include:

  • Biceps tendon: attaches the biceps muscle to the radius, allowing the elbow to bend
  • Triceps tendon: attaches the triceps muscle to the ulna, allowing the elbow to straighten

Nerves of the Elbow

The main nerves of the elbow joint are the ulnar, radial and median nerves. These nerves transfer signals from the brain to the muscles that aid in elbow movements. They also carry sensory signals such as touch, pain, and temperature back to the brain.

Any injury or damage to these nerves causes pain, weakness or joint instability.

Blood Vessels Supplying the Elbow

Arteries are blood vessels that carry oxygen-pure blood from the heart to the hand. The main artery of the elbow is the brachial artery that travels across the inside of the elbow and divides into two small branches below the elbow to form the ulnar and the radial artery.

Elbow Arthritis

Elbow Arthritis

Although the elbows are not weight-bearing joints, they are considered to be most important for the functioning of the upper limbs. Hence, even minor trauma or disease affecting the elbow may cause pain and limit the movements of the upper limbs.

Tennis Elbow

Tennis Elbow

Tennis elbow is a common name for the elbow condition lateral epicondylitis. It is an overuse injury that causes inflammation and microtears of the tendons that attach to the lateral epicondyle.

Golfer's Elbow

Golfer's Elbow

Golfer’s elbow is a condition associated with pain on the inside of the elbow where tendons of your forearm attach to the bony prominence (medial epicondyle). It is also called medial epicondylitis and is caused by injury or irritation to the tendons which can become painful and swollen.

Cubital Tunnel Syndrome

Cubital Tunnel Syndrome

When the elbow is bent, the ulnar nerve can stretch and catch on the bony bump. When the ulnar nerve is compressed or entrapped, the nerve can tear and become inflamed, leading to cubital tunnel syndrome.

Bicep Tendon Tear at the Elbow

Bicep Tendon Tear at the Elbow

A biceps tear can be complete or partial. Partial biceps tendon tears will not completely break the tendon while complete tendon tears will break the tendon into two parts. Tears of the distal biceps tendon are usually complete and the muscle is separated from the bone.

Elbow Dislocation

Elbow Dislocation

The arm in the human body is made up of three bones that join to form a hinge joint called the elbow. The upper arm bone or humerus connects from the shoulder to the elbow to form the top of the hinge joint. The lower arm or forearm consists of two bones, the radius, and the ulna.

Osteochondritis Dissecans of Elbow

Osteochondritis Dissecans of Elbow

Osteochondritis dissecans is a joint condition in which a piece of cartilage, along with a thin layer of bone separates because of inadequate blood supply. The separated fragments are sometimes called “joint mice”.

Elbow Injuries

Elbow Injuries

Elbow fractures: Fracture is a common injury to the elbow. Elbow fractures may result from a fall onto an outstretched wrist, direct impact to the elbow or twisting injury. Elbow fractures may cause severe pain, swelling, tenderness, and painful movements.

Little League Elbow

Little League Elbow

Little league elbow, also called medial apophysitis, is an overuse condition that occurs when there is overstress or injury to the inside portion of the elbow. It is commonly seen in children involved in sports activities that require repetitive throwing such as baseball.

Elbow Pain

Elbow Pain

Damage to any of the structures that make up the elbow joint can cause elbow pain.

Elbow Contracture

Elbow Contracture

Elbow contracture refers to a stiff elbow with a limited range of motion. It is a common complication following elbow surgery, fractures, dislocations, and burns.

Loose Bodies in the Elbow

Loose Bodies in the Elbow

Your elbow is a joint made up of three bones held together by muscles, ligaments, tendons, and cartilage. It is both a hinge and pivot joint allowing you to bend and rotate your elbow freely. Loose bodies in your elbow are small pieces of bone or cartilage that have broken off and are lying or floating free within the joint.

Throwing Injuries

Throwing Injuries

An athlete uses an overhand throw to achieve greater speed and distance. Repeated throwing in sports such as baseball and basketball can place a lot of stress on the joints of the arm, and lead to weakening and ultimately, injury to the structures in the elbow.

Distal Biceps Repair

Distal Biceps Repair

The biceps is a large muscle located in the front of your upper arm and runs from the shoulder to the elbow joint. It is attached to the bones of the shoulder and elbow by tendons. The distal biceps is the area where the biceps is attached to the forearm bone in the elbow.

Elbow Arthroscopy

Elbow Arthroscopy

Elbow arthroscopy, also referred to as keyhole or minimally invasive surgery, is a surgical procedure that is performed through tiny incisions to evaluate and treat several elbow conditions.

Elbow Ligament Reconstruction

Elbow Ligament Reconstruction

Ligament reconstruction is considered in patients with ligament rupture. Your surgeon will make an incision over the elbow. Care is taken to move muscles, tendons, and nerves out of the way. The donor's tendon is harvested from either the forearm or below the knee.

UCL Reconstruction

UCL Reconstruction

If conservative treatment options fail to resolve the condition and symptoms persist for 6-12 months, your surgeon may recommend ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction surgery. UCL reconstruction surgery repairs the UCL by reconstructing it with a tendon from the patient’s own body (autograft) or from a cadaver (allograft).

Golfer's Elbow Surgery

Golfer's Elbow Surgery

Golfer’s elbow is a condition associated with pain on the inside of the elbow where tendons of your forearm attach to the bony prominence (medial epicondyle). It is also called medial epicondylitis and is caused by injury or irritation to the tendons which can become painful and swollen.

Total Elbow Replacement

Total Elbow Replacement

Elbow joint replacement, also referred to as total elbow arthroplasty, is an operative procedure to treat the symptoms of arthritis that have not responded to non-surgical treatments. The goal of elbow joint replacement surgery is to eliminate your pain and increase the mobility of your elbow joint.

Triceps Repair

Triceps Repair

Triceps repair is a surgical procedure that involves the repair of a ruptured (torn) triceps tendon. A tendon is a tough band of fibrous tissue which connects muscle to bone, and works together with muscles in moving your arms, fingers, legs, and toes. The triceps tendons connect the triceps muscles to the shoulder blade and elbow in your arm. Rupture of the triceps tendon is a rare injury which occurs as a result of the detachment of the triceps tendon from the attached bone. These tendons can rupture with lifting heavy weights, during contact sports or after a fall on an outstretched arm.