Elbow stiffness affects how you walk (and run!)

Elbow-stiffness

I take care of many patients with stiffness in their elbow. Often times this is a result of an elbow trauma and can lead to significant loss of function.

Imagine if you could not bend your elbow past a right angle. You wouldn’t be able to reach your hand to your mouth to eat, or your head to put glasses on.

There has been much written on the difficulty stiff elbow patients have with activities that rely on positioning the hand in space. But what my colleagues and I had noticed is that our patients with elbow stiffness also have many other complaints, some of them even experience difficulty walking or running. Without a flexible elbow we postulated that the pendulum effect that your arms have while ambulating may be different enough to make measurable differences in how you walk.

So we employed our motion analysis laboratory at HSS to study how people with simulated elbow stiffness walk. We took volunteers that had no elbow problems, temporarily made their elbows stiff with a splint, asked them to walk and recorded their motions.

What we found corroborated what some of our patients’ experiences. Our study participants with simulated stiff elbows walked slower and had smaller stride lengths than when their elbow moved freely.

By itself this is not necessarily a compelling enough reason to undergo treatment for elbow stiffness, but adds to the list of deficits many of our patients experience due to elbow contractures.

The effect of simulated elbow contracture on temporal and distance gait parameters. Gait Posture. 2015 Mar;41(3):791-4. Trehan SK, Wolff AL, Gibbons M, Hillstrom HJ, Daluiski A

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