Snapping elbow-A guide to diagnosis and treatment

Jonathan Jetsmark Bjerre, Finn Elkjær Johannsen, Martin Rathcke, Michael Rindom Krogsgaard


AIM: To develop practical guidelines for diagnosis and treatment of the painful snapping elbow syndrome (SE).

METHODS: Clinical studies were searched in the databases PubMed and Scopus for the phrases "SE", "snapping triceps", "snapping ulnar nerve" and "snapping annular ligament". A total of 36 relevant studies were identified. From these we extracted information about number of patients, diagnostic methods, patho-anatomical findings, treatments and outcomes. Practical guidelines for diagnosis and treatment of SE were developed based on analysis of the data. We present two illustrative patient cases-one with intra-articular pathology and one with extra-articular pathology.

RESULTS: Snapping is audible, palpable and often visible. It has a lateral (intra-articular) or medial (extra-articular) pathology. Snapping over the medial humeral epicondyle is caused by dislocation of the ulnar nerve or a part of the triceps tendon, and is demonstrated by dynamic ultrasonography. Treatment is by open surgery. Lateral snapping over the radial head has an intra-articular pathology: A synovial plica, a torn annular ligament or a meniscus-like remnant from the foetal elbow. Pathology can be visualized by conventional arthrography, magnetic resonance (MR) arthrography, high resolution magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and arthroscopy, while conventional MRI and radiographs often turn out normal. Treatment is by arthroscopic or eventual open resection. Early surgical intervention is recommended as the snapping can damage the ulnar nerve (medial) or the intra-articular cartilage (lateral). If medial snapping only occurs during repeated or loaded extension/flexion of the elbow (in sports or work) it may be treated by reduction of these activities. Differential diagnoses are loose bodies (which can be visualized by radiographs) and postero-lateral instability (demonstrates by clinical examination). An algorithm for diagnosis and treatment is suggested.

CONCLUSION: The primary step is establishment of laterality. From this follows relevant diagnostic measures and treatment as defined in this guideline.

TidsskriftWorld Journal of Orthopedics
Udgave nummer4
Sider (fra-til)65-71
Antal sider7
StatusUdgivet - 18 apr. 2018


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