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Loose Bodies


Occasionally, small pieces of cartilage or bone chips may break off in the elbow joint, and catch or get stuck in the joint.


Common Causes

Elbow trauma, such as a direct blow to the elbow, or a fall on the outstretched arm. Sometimes a long period of time elapses between the initial injury and the development of loose bodies.



Pain in the elbow. A sense of catching, or getting ‘stuck’. There may be loss of motion, or actual locking of the elbow.


Physical Findings

There may be areas of tenderness on physical examination, loss of joint motion, or swelling in the elbow. Often the exam is surprisingly unremarkable.



History and physical examination. X-rays may show bony loose bodies (cartilage is invisible on x-ray). Rarely, an MR scan or CT scan may be ordered to assist in locating loose bodies.


Non-operative Treatment

Generally not too helpful. Anti-inflammatory medication, and corticosteroid injections my reduce symptoms.


Surgical Treatment

Arthroscopy, with removal of the loose body, is the treatment of choice.


Injury Comment

Arthroscopy is usually curative for this problem, and leaves minimal scars while allowing rapid return to work and sports. Even after successful removal of loose bodies, new loose bodies may occur later on.