Outcomes of open arthrolysis of the elbow without post-operative passive stretching

J Bone Joint Surg Br. 2012 Mar;94(3):348-52. doi: 10.1302/0301-620X.94B3.27278.


The use of passive stretching of the elbow after arthrolysis is controversial. We report the results of open arthrolysis in 81 patients. Prospectively collected outcome data with a minimum follow-up of one year were analysed. All patients had sustained an intra-articular fracture initially and all procedures were performed by the same surgeon under continuous brachial plexus block anaesthesia and with continuous passive movement (CPM) used post-operatively for two to three days. CPM was used to maintain the movement achieved during surgery and passive stretching was not used at any time. A senior physiotherapist assessed all the patients at regular intervals. The mean range of movement (ROM) improved from 69° to 109° and the function and pain of the upper limb improved from 32 to 16 and from 20 to 10, as assessed by the Disabilities of the Arm Shoulder and Hand score and a visual analogue scale, respectively. The greatest improvement was obtained in the stiffest elbows: nine patients with a pre-operative ROM < 30° achieved a mean post-operative ROM of 92° (55° to 125°). This study demonstrates that in patients with a stiff elbow after injury, good results may be obtained after open elbow arthrolysis without using passive stretching during rehabilitation.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Collateral Ligaments / surgery
  • Contracture / etiology
  • Contracture / surgery
  • Disability Evaluation
  • Elbow Joint / diagnostic imaging
  • Elbow Joint / injuries*
  • Elbow Joint / physiopathology
  • Elbow Joint / surgery*
  • Female
  • Fracture Fixation, Internal / methods
  • Fracture Fixation, Internal / rehabilitation
  • Fractures, Bone / diagnostic imaging
  • Fractures, Bone / rehabilitation
  • Fractures, Bone / surgery
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Motion Therapy, Continuous Passive / methods
  • Muscle Stretching Exercises / methods
  • Postoperative Care / methods
  • Prospective Studies
  • Radiography
  • Range of Motion, Articular
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Young Adult