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What are Loose Bodies in the Elbow?

Your elbow is a joint made up of three bones held together by surrounding muscles, ligaments, and joint capsule. 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. They can make elbow movement such as bending or rotation difficult or painful.

Causes of Loose Bodies in the Elbow

Loose bodies in your elbow is most commonly caused by osteoarthritis, a condition in which the cartilage surfaces of the elbow suffer wear and tear or degeneration. Other causes include:

  • Elbow fractures or elbow dislocation
  • Repetitive stressful activities such as sports or manual work

Symptoms of Loose Bodies in the Elbow

Loose bodies in the elbow may be associated with:

  • Elbow pain
  • Swelling
  • Stiffness
  • Catching or locking sensation in the elbow

Diagnosis of Loose Bodies in the Elbow

To evaluate your elbow, your doctor will review your symptoms and perform a physical examination. Movement and range of motion of the elbow are assessed. An X-ray will be ordered and possibly a CT scan or MRI to visualize the joint and identify the loose body.

Treatment for Loose Bodies in the Elbow

Generally, you may not experience much discomfort and can live with loose bodies in your elbow without much difficulty. However, if symptoms become severe and are affecting elbow movement, surgery may be suggested.

Your doctor can treat your condition through an open incion or with a procedure called elbow arthroscopy. Arthroscopy is a minimally invasive technique that reduces surgical trauma and allows an early recovery.

In most cases, surgical removal of the loose bodies will relieve your painful symptoms, but pain may persist if you have underlying osteoarthritis. Complications include infection, nerve or blood vessel damage, stiffness, and potential elbow instability.

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