My 69-year-old father thinks he may have dislocated his elbow but popped it back in place. Now whenever he goes to get up from his chair, he cannot push up with his arm on that side without feeling like it's going to pop out again. What do you make of this kind of problem?
You may be describing what is referred to as a positive chair sign. Essentially he is performing a sitting pushup. With the elbows bent to 90 degrees and the arms out to the side, extending the elbow fully while pushing up on the arm of the chair causes a feeling of apprehension. The patient cannot put full pressure through that elbow without a sensation that the joint is going to pop or redislocate.
This type of report suggests instability of the joint from damage (tear or rupture) of the joint capsule and/or surrounding soft tissues (ligaments, tendons). It may be advised to see an orthopedic surgeon for a proper evaluation and treatment of the problem.
The physician will review your father's history (what happened, when, and how). Special clinical tests will be done to evaluate all of the structures of the elbow to identify what might be damaged. Imaging studies such as X-rays (plain and stress) or MRIs may be ordered.
Treatment depends on the full extent of the injuries, your father's overall general health, and his desires or goals for motion and function. The surgeon will decide whether conservative (nonoperative) care or surgical repair or reconstruction is the best way to go. The goal is to restore as much as possible normal anatomy, motion, and function.
Lee M. Reichel, MD, et al. Elbow Lateral Collateral Ligament Injuries. In The Journal of Hand Surgery. January 2013. Vol. 38A. No. 1. Pp. 184-201.
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