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3 - Examination of the elbow

Amjid Ali
Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
David Stanley
Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
Nick Harris
Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, Leeds General Infirmary
Fazal Ali
Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, Chesterfield Royal Hospital
Mark D. Miller
James Madison University, Virginia
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As with the examination of all other joints in the body, a carefully taken and detailed clinical history will often lead the clinician to a provisional diagnosis of the cause of the patient’s elbow problem.

It is important that, as the patient describes the symptoms, the clinician interprets the information in the light of the local anatomy, most of which, because the elbow is a superficial joint, can be palpated and assessed during the examination.


It is always essential when taking a history to record the patient’s age, sex and hand dominance.

Age will give an immediate clue as to the likelihood of certain conditions being responsible for the patient’s complaints. For example, osteochondritis dissecans may be the underlying cause of elbow locking in a young patient, whereas the same symptom in an older patient is more likely to be caused by loose body formation associated with degenerative disease.

The elbow may be the first presenting site of rheumatoid arthritis and, since this occurs more commonly in women, the sex of the patient should alert one to the possibility of this diagnosis if the initial symptoms are pain and slight swelling.

Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2014

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