Surgical treatment of post-traumatic elbow stiffness: A systematic review

Izaäk F. Kodde*, Jordy van Rijn, Michel P.J. van den Bekerom, Denise Eygendaal

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalReview articleAcademicpeer-review


Background: Trauma to the elbow is a common cause of joint stiffness that might require surgical release. Release of the stiff elbow can be done by open or arthroscopic approach. There is no high-level evidence for the best surgical treatment modality for post-traumatic elbow stiffness. The objective of this article was to review current available literature of studies reporting on open or arthroscopic release of post-traumatic elbow stiffness. Methods: A comprehensive literature search was performed. All titles and abstracts of potentially relevant studies were reviewed, with a set of predefined inclusion and exclusion criteria. After the initial assessment for inclusion, 2 authors extracted data independently from the included articles. Results: Thirty articles were included, with an overall enrolment of 798 patients. No randomized controlled trials were retrieved. The first article was published in 1989 and the most recent in 2012. There were 4 different kinds of treatment modalities identified from the included studies: 1) open arthrolysis; 2) arthroscopic arthrolysis; 3) open arthrolysis with external fixation; and 4) open arthrolysis with distraction arthroplasty. The gain in range of motion was 51°, 40°, 88°, and 56° for groups 1-4, respectively. The average percentage of complications was 23, 5, 73, and 58 for groups 1-4, respectively. Conclusion: Current literature is not sufficient enough to draw firm statistically based conclusions. However, as the amount of complications seems to rise with the extent of the surgical procedure, we would advise to treat as less invasive as possible (grade C).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)574-580
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Shoulder and Elbow Surgery
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • Complications
  • Elbow
  • Level IV
  • Range of motion
  • Stiffness
  • Surgical treatment
  • Systematic Review
  • Systematic review
  • Trauma


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