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Musculoskeletal ultrasound of the elbow

David J Berkoff, MD, FAAEM, CAQSM
Section Editor
Karl B Fields, MD
Deputy Editor
Jonathan Grayzel, MD, FAAEM


The elbow is susceptible to a variety of injuries and conditions. Due to the relatively superficial location of a majority of the elbow structures, many of these pathologic conditions can be assessed using ultrasound (US).

This topic will review a standard, systematic approach to musculoskeletal ultrasonography of the elbow. Topics devoted to conditions and injuries involving the elbow and upper extremity are found separately. (See "Evaluation of elbow pain in adults" and "Elbow injuries in active children or skeletally immature adolescents: Approach" and "Epicondylitis (tennis and golf elbow)" and "Ulnar neuropathy at the elbow and wrist" and "Radial head and neck fractures in adults" and "Evaluation and management of condylar elbow fractures in children" and "Epicondylar and transphyseal elbow fractures in children" and "Evaluation and management of supracondylar fractures in children".)


Musculoskeletal ultrasound (US) uses high frequency sound waves (1 to 20 megahertz, MHz) to produce high-resolution images of soft-tissue structures (eg, nerves, tendons, muscles, ligaments, bursae) and bony surfaces. The basic physical principles and underlying technology of US are reviewed in detail separately. (See "Basic principles and safety of diagnostic ultrasound in obstetrics and gynecology".)

US has many advantages over other imaging modalities, including portability and rapid diagnosis [1]. Many of these general advantages are discussed separately. Specifically for the elbow, advantages include dynamic imaging of the ulnar collateral ligament medially and the ulnar nerve at the cubital tunnel; visualization of soft tissue abnormalities, including tendon tears and the typical changes associated with tendinopathy; ligament and muscle injury; bony injury; and identification of an elbow joint effusion [2-6]. (See "Musculoskeletal ultrasound of the shoulder", section on 'Uses, advantages, and limitations of shoulder ultrasound'.)


A general discussion of the clinical anatomy of the elbow is provided separately. (See "Evaluation of elbow pain in adults", section on 'Clinical anatomy'.)

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Literature review current through: Nov 2017. | This topic last updated: Sep 27, 2016.
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