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What is a Snapping Elbow?

Picture of Snapping Elbow

A snapping elbow (SE) is a rare condition, where the distal part of the triceps tendon will snap over the bony prominence on the inside of the elbow during elbow flexion and extension. Snapping is seen more commonly in the medial triceps tendon close to the ulnar nerve, but can also be seen in the lateral elbow too.

The elbow joint is a complex hinge joint between the upper arm or humerus and the forearm bones or the radius and ulnar. The triceps muscles are composed of the long head, lateral head, and medial head. A small interval between the medial edge of the triceps and medial epicondyle predisposes to snapping triceps.

Causes of Snapping Elbow

Some of the risk factors to develop snapping elbow condition includes:

  • Heavy weight lifting
  • Repetitive work or sports activities using upper limb
  • Trauma or accidental injury to the elbow

Symptoms of Snapping Elbow

Common symptoms of snapping elbow condition include:

  • Pain on inside or outside of the elbow
  • Popping of the elbow while bending
  • Pins and needles numbness in the outer hand
  • Tingling sensation
  • Swelling and redness
  • Tenderness to touch

Diagnosis of Snapping Elbow

Generally, your doctor will perform a thorough physical examination and ask about your medical history. In order to confirm the diagnosis, your healthcare provider may order the following imaging studies:

  • An ultrasound can show ulnar nerve damage, thickening, or dislocation
  • An MRI scan may show inflammation of the medial head of the triceps or oedema of the medial epicondyle
  • An electromyography can show signs of ulnar neuropathy in cases of severe complications

Treatment of Snapping Elbow

Treatment of the snapping elbow condition includes:

  • Anti-inflammatory medicines to reduce swelling
  • Pain relievers to decrease pain
  • Physical therapy and rehabilitation
  • Splints to stabilize the elbow
  • Ice pack or hot water bag to reduce pain
  • Surgery is recommended for the treatment of complicated cases that may involve releasing an irritated ulnar nerve and moving it to the front of the inside of the elbow and cutting and reattaching of the tendon. Usually, it takes 2-3 months to fully recover from this surgery.

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Useful Links

  • Picture of American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
  • Picture of American College of Sports Medicine
  • Picture of American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine
  • Picture of Arthroscopy Association of North America