Elbow stiffness after injury focus of new research

The elbow is one of the most anatomically and biomechanically complex joints in the body, with three separate bones meeting to provide motion to the forearm and hand. But injuries to any of these bones or to the ligaments or cartilage causes significant dysfunction, making every day tasks painful and difficult.
Spencer Lake
Spencer Lake, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, has received a one-year, $19,919 grant from the American Shoulder and Elbow Surgeons to study the causes of stiffness and tightening, or contracture, of the joint after an injury to the elbow, called post-traumatic joint stiffness.

Despite its importance, the elbow is among the least studied joints in the body. Lake will team with Leesa Galatz, MD, professor of orthopedic surgery and chief of the Shoulder and Elbow Service at Washington University School of Medicine, to analyze the joint more closely with the ultimate goal of helping patients prevent post-traumatic joint stiffness after treatment for an elbow injury.

As a biomechanical engineer, Lake will study the biological and structural properties of stiff elbows and determine how changes to the connective tissue around the joint relate to its mechanics. In addition, he will look for the causes of long-term elbow stiffness, tightness or reduced function after the joint has been made immobile during the healing process and how that alters biological and structural properties of the joint’s tissue.

In addition to preventing stiffness for patients, Lake expects the research will allow future studies of other problems of the elbow joint, including osteoarthritis and instability.

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