The Elbow Joint

The Elbow Joint (Articulatio Cubiti)

Elbow Joint Function

The elbow joint is the synovial hinge joint between the humerus in the upper arm and the radius and ulna of the forearm which allows the hand to be moved toward and away from the body. The bone ends are covered with cartilage that allows the joints to slide easily against one another and absorb shock.


Ligaments hold the bones together to form the joint capsule, a synovial fluid filled sac that surrounds and lubricates the joint.

Tendons connect the elbow bones to the arm muscles.

- The important ligaments of the elbow are the medial collateral ligament (on the inside of the elbow) and the lateral collateral ligament (on the outside of the elbow) that provide the main source of stability for the elbow.

- The triceps tendon attaches the triceps muscle on the back of the arm to the ulna

- The biceps tendon attaches the biceps muscle on the front of the arm to the radius

- Muscles from the forearm cross the elbow and attach to the humerus, on the outside of the arm just above the elbow with the lateral epicondyle tendon and the inside of the arm just above the elbow with the medial epicondyle tendon (most of the muscles that straighten the fingers and wrist). These are important tendons because they are common locations of tendonitis.

Common Injuries of the Elbow Joint

Elbow contractures (elbow stiffness) – commonly result from trauma/injury, often with ligament damage or fractures, limiting elbow movement and causing pain

Loose Bodies – fragments of bone and/or cartilage that break free within the joint, causing pain, popping and clicking and sometimes locking

Arthritis – primarily osteoarthritis leading to cartilage thinning and bone spur formation, which grow and begin to block movement leading to stiffness and pain

Lateral Epicondylitis (tennis elbow) – painful tendonitis of the group of muscles on the outer part of the elbow

Medial Epicondylitis (golfers elbow) - painful tendonitis of the group of muscles on the inside of the elbow

Osteochondritis Dissecans (OCD) – lack of blood supply to a region of the humerus bone called the capitellum

Dislocated Elbow – when one of the bones that forms the elbow gets knocked out of place

Strains and Sprains – stretching or tearing muscles (strain) and ligaments (sprain)

Bursitis – swelling of the synovial fluid sacs often caused by repeating the same motion

Elbow Treatments

Rest and Ice – reduce pain and inflammation

Physiotherapy – help build strength, improve flexibility and prevent recurrence

Epicondylitis clasps – particularly useful for tennis elbow

Steroid Injections – reduce the pain and inflammation caused by arthritis, tennis elbow, or bursitis

Platelet-Rich Plasma Injections – to accelerate the healing, reduce pain and increase function in tennis elbow

Pain medication – OTC and prescription medication

Elbow Surgery – arthroscopic procedures to remove fragments or repair ligaments or tendons

Nutritional supplements – oral administration of joint supplements including hyaluronic acid and chondroitin