Posttraumatic Elbow Contracture

Gregory Rafijah


Curr Orthop Pract. 2014;25(3):213-216. 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction


Posttraumatic elbow stiffness is a challenging problem that may follow elbow injury, especially in the setting of central nervous system injury or major burns. A multidisciplinary approach is required among patient, surgeon, therapist, and others for optimal treatment. Functional restoration of the elbow afflicted with a posttraumatic contracture is possible with both surgical and nonsurgical modalities. Prevention of elbow stiffness may yield the best results.


Posttraumatic contracture of the elbow is a common outcome after elbow injury, and the subsequent impairment can seriously affect upper extremity function including activities of daily living. A loss of 50% of normal elbow motion will diminish upper extremity function by 80%.[1] A functional range of elbow motion that permits 90% of normal daily activities has been described as a 100--1301 arc of flexion and extension and a 1001 arc of forearm rotation.[2] Elbow stiffness may result after trauma in 10--15% of all patients.[3] In a recent review of 32,708 elbow injuries in New York State over a 12-year period, 270 patients required surgical release (1.4%).[4] The mean time from injury to release was 31 wk, and patients with more severe injuries were more likely to require intervention.