Houston Methodist. Leading Medicine

Elbow FAQ

Question:

I broke my elbow about six months ago. Unfortunately before it healed, I fell again and dislocated it. Now I can't seem to keep it from popping in and out. Why won't it heal back to normal?

Answer:

The elbow has some unusual and very individual anatomy that can make a difference after injuries. Fractures and dislocations can alter the normal bumps and grooves that give the elbow joint its alignment. Elbow dislocation with even one bone fracture increases the risk of problems.

The elbow is a hinge joint with its major point of axis for movement and rotation where the bones of the forearm insert into the humerus (upper arm bone). The bottom of the humerus called the trochlea is spool-shaped. The top of the ulna wraps around this spool to form the hinge. The joint gets its stability from this alignment.

Besides the formation of the bones and joints, there's also the strength and stability given by the surrounding ligaments. Many times when an elbow is dislocated, the ligaments are torn or damaged, too.

It's the combination of dislocation, fracture, and soft tissue damage that creates an unstable joint. Until all three of these structures are repaired, restored, and strengthened, there is a risk of recurrent dislocation and instability.

Robert Z. Tashijian, MD, and Julia A. Katarincic, MD. Complex Elbow Instability. In Journal of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. May 2006. Vol. 14. No. 5. Pp. 278-286.

*Disclaimer:* The information contained herein is compiled from a variety of sources. It may not be complete or timely. It does not cover all diseases, physical conditions, ailments or treatments. The information should NOT be used in place of visit with your healthcare provider, nor should you disregard the advice of your health care provider because of any information you read in this topic.
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