Snapping elbow is a rare condition, which is often confused with more common pathologies like tennis elbow, and golfer’s elbow. The term “snapping” is coined from the audible nature of this condition in which a “popping” or “clicking” is heard from the elbow joint during flexion and extension.
The potential causes are extensive, some of which include:
Instability of medial side of the elbow: this includes either the subluxation of the ulnar nerve or triceps tendons.
Instability of lateral ligaments: this includes damage to the annular ligament, meniscus, or synovial plica.
What are the symptoms of snapping elbow?
Snapping elbow is often accompanied by tangible symptoms that mimic many other elbow conditions.
Some of the symptoms include:
Clicking or popping sound
Pain on the inside of the elbow
Pins and needles or numbness that spreads to the little and ring finger
Stiffness in the arm
If you notice any of the symptoms, make an appointment with an orthopaedic specialist to get an accurate diagnosis and treatment.
Dr Puah KL is our Senior Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon at Artisan Sports & Orthopaedic Surgery. He used to serve the sports service of Singapore General Hospital - the highest volume trauma centre for orthopaedics in Singapore.
Yes. Popping of the elbow is not uncommon as it may be due to cavitation whereby small gas bubbles form at the joint and release upon movement.
However, when accompanied by pain and discomfort, it is likely you may have a snapping elbow and we recommend making an appointment with an orthopaedic specialist to get an accurate diagnosis and treatment.
Who is at risk of snapping elbow in Singapore?
Snapping elbow is truly mysterious by nature as there are no significant patterns that have yet to be identified that could provide a rationale for its occurrence.
There are cases in which patients have not suffered any prior trauma or injury, did not partake in any physical activity nor practised improper ergonomics when performing work and are diagnosed with snapping elbow nevertheless.
However, a potential risk factor includes:
Weightlifters: weighted extension of triceps or elbow during high-resistance training may increase your risk of developing snapping elbow.
How is snapping elbow diagnosed?
Snapping elbow is one of the most trickiest conditions to obtain a diagnosis for. More often, tests administered return normal results. It is also one of the most commonly misdiagnosed conditions as previously mentioned.
Given the mysterious nature of snapping elbow, the examination required would involve one or more of the following:
Physical examination and medical history: inform your doctor of any potential activities that may have led to an injury such as trauma, exercise, or sports. Additionally, a physical examination such as the elbow flexion test can be used to identify the extent of injury in the impacted area.
Ultrasound or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): MRI or dynamic ultrasonography could aid in detecting potential injuries at the medial or lateral ligaments or nerve.
Arthroscopy:arthroscopy involves a small camera inserted into the elbow joint to provide clarity of the condition of the affected elbow joint.
What are the treatment options for snapping elbow in Singapore?
In cases where early detection is made, conservative treatment is explored. However, in the specific case of snapping elbow, surgery has been the sole remedy to completely resolve the issue.
Treatment options include:
Elbow brace/splint/sling: would be suggested to provide the impacted area with an opportunity to heal and rest. You would also be advised to stop all activities and observe complete physical rest to ensure the highest possibility of recovery.
Arthroscopic surgery:elbow arthroscopy is often the resolution to this condition. Surgery could range from an anterior transposition of the ulnar nerve, excising the plica (removal of tissue), or loosening capsule tissues. The surgery administered is dependent on the cause.
Frequently asked questions
Can I treat snapping elbow at home?
What can I do to stop the pain from snapping elbow?
Feeling aches and pains?
Book a consultation with us for a more comprehensive diagnosis and a personalised treatment plan best suited to your needs.