Evolution of Technology

Internal Elbow Joint Stabilizer

A recently developed novel technology to address the aforementioned shortcomings of chronic elbow instability is the internal joint stabilizer (IJS). This device is implanted subcutaneously about the elbow joint, allowing unrestricted joint motion while avoiding the complications inherent to other methods.

First developed in the early 2000’s, the latest technology on the market is based on the design created 2014. This model involved the use of a Steinmann pin (2.5mm thick metal pin) that was inserted in the distal portion of the humerus parallel to the axis of ulnohumeral rotation. The other end of the pin (on the lateral aspect of the implant) was bent in a figure-of-eight design and then secured to the ulna with use of screws (pictures below).

This internal construct allowed for un-inhibited flexion/extension and prevented motion in any other plane. This device remained in place to allow for adequate ligament healing, and then is subsequently removed with a simple procedure (usually around 6-7wks). Although removal of these implants is recommended, even with newer designs, current reports have found that about 2/3rds of patient opt to keep them in place.

Evolution of Procedure

Elbow Joint Stabilization

Historically, several methods of temporary stabilization have been utilized to manage chronic elbow instability. First line option involved immobilization of the elbow joint with the use of a splint or cast with the elbow in flexion a period of time sufficient for the soft tissue stabilizers to either heal or scar down (typically for a matter of several weeks).

This method was notoriously ineffective for a couple reasons. The first is that the arbitrarily flexed position of the elbow may not actually be in a position of stability. The second is that the elbow joint becomes stiff very rapidly in a matter of days, far quicker than the time required for the soft tissues to heal enough to provide adequate stability.

The surgical option in the past involved transarticular pinning (a metal pin placed across the elbow joint preventing motion). The drawback to this method is damage to the articular surface of the joint, which predisposes patients to early on set osteoarthritis.

This led to the use of external fixators, which involve metal pins inserted through the skin and into the bone both above and below the elbow joint. These pins are then connected to rods on outside of the skin. The use of hinged external fixators has been advocated, but due to difficulty of appropriately aligning the axis of rotation, preventing stiffness with early range of motion often was unsuccessful.

This led to abandoning the hinged component of the external fixator and acceptance of significant elbow stiffness. This is still often used in today’s practice, but these come at the cost of preserving joint motion, are clumsy, and pin tract infections are very common.