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Athletic Training

Elbow locking



You said that a joint locking could be a sign of a loose body in the joint. Could that loose body be from a torn cartlidge in the joint?

Previous Question: My elbow locked earlier this week and the pain is getting worse. My elbow has locked before but the pain didn`t get this bad or last this long before. I find it hard to pull open a door. I get pain in the outer part of my elbow and along the top of the crease of the elbow. Depending on what I am doing sometimes the pain shoots up my arm and sometimes is shoots down my arm. I turn my wrist so that my palm is facing upward and pushes in on those soap despensor in the bathroom and I can almost cry with the pain. It is tender on the outter part of the elbow. When I use the compter to type I only moves my fingers but that causes pain in my elbow. What tendons or ligamenst are found in the outer part of the elbow? What are the signs if the ligaments or tendons are torn in the elbow?

Answer: It is somewhat concerning that you are reporting that your elbow "locks" and is something that I would suggest you follow up on with your primary care physician. Usually, when a joint locks in place, it can be a sign of a loose body in the joint which can then affect the surrounding structures (tendons/ligaments/nerves/etc...) causing pain.

To answer your questions, the muscles that extend your wrist come together and insert on the lateral aspect of your elbow (explaining perhaps why it hurts for you to type). When a muscle or tendon is strained, you will have pain with motion at that joint. However, based on the mechanism of injury when your pain began, a muscle strain may not be the problem. If a ligament has been sprained, you will also have pain with motion but may also experience a sensation of "looseness" in the joint being that ligaments are stabilizing structures.

Again, based on the severity of pain, limited range of motion, and radiating pain you are reporting, I would follow up with your primary care physician as soon as possible.

Hope this helps!


Things that may cause a joint to “lock” in place could perhaps be a piece of torn cartilage that is out of place, causing an obstruction, or other “loose bodies” could include a small bone fragment causing the joint to get stuck in place. That is why I recommend that you follow up with your physician as soon as possible if you are still experiencing these symptoms.

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Response by:

Katrina B Stibel, MA, ATC Katrina B Stibel, MA, ATC
Assistant Athletic Trainer, Instructor
Department of Athletics
College of Medicine
The Ohio State University