Elbow Instability

Elbow instability refers to looseness in the elbow joint resulting in the elbow catching, popping, or sliding out of place when performing certain arm actions. Often, elbow instability is the result of an injury such as an elbow dislocation/subluxation.

Recurrent or chronic elbow stability refers to when the elbow is loose and repeatedly feels as if it might slip out of place, especially on loading the joint.

a man holding his elbow because of pain

Symptoms of recurrent elbow instability may include:

  • Locking, catching, or clicking of the elbow
  • Feeling that your elbow might pop out of place
  • Overhead athletes may feel pain on the inside of their elbows when performing a throwing motion, or they may even experience a loss in ball control and throwing velocity.




Elbow instability is brought about by a traumatic injury sustained by the elbow or elbow dislocation/subluxation. This can be subtle with spontaneous reduction of the elbow such that the patient may not be aware of it.

Other causes of elbow instability include:

  • Falling on an outstretched hand 
  • Long-standing elbow deformity 
  • Overuse or repetitive stress seen in overhead athletes (e.g., baseball pitchers)




After finding out about your symptoms, medical history, and mechanism of injury (if any), your orthopaedic specialist will then examine your elbow for tenderness over the ligaments or presence of elbow deformity. They may also move your arm in several different directions and apply stress tests to check for instability, or a popping/sliding sensation. Sometimes they will test your arm strength and check that there are no injuries to your nerves.


While many cases of elbow instability can be diagnosed based on medical history and physical examination, some orthopaedic specialists in Singapore may recommend you get an X-ray or MRI scan done. X-rays help to rule out the presence of fractures, while MRI enables your orthopaedic specialist to determine the severity of the ligament injury, and check for associated cartilage injuries.




Conservative treatment options are usually effective in managing the symptoms of elbow instability. These include physical therapy to strengthen the muscles around the elbow joint, wearing a brace, especially in the acute period after injury to allow the ligaments to heal, and activity modification. Your doctor may also prescribe you with pain medication or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs to help with the pain and swelling.


Patients with multiple ligament injuries or severe chronic elbow instability may require surgical treatment to regain full usage of their arm and elbow, especially for sports or carrying heavy loads. Acute elbow ligament injuries can be treated with ligament repair or augmentation, while chronic elbow instability often require ligament reconstruction.



Every case is different; hence it is best to consult an orthopaedic surgeon for an accurate diagnosis so that you can obtain the best treatment option that is most suitable for you. Reach out to us today if you suspect that you are suffering from chronic or recurrent elbow instability and let us help you enjoy a better quality of life.