We're using cookies to give you the best experience on our site. Cookies are files stored in your browser and are used by most websites to help personalise your web experience.

By continuing to use our website without changing the settings, you're agreeing to our use of cookies.

Find out more
For more information, go to

Examination of the elbow

Issue 11-2 (Clinical assessment of the musculoskeletal system)

Download this issue (opens in new window)(3.1 MB)


  • Look from the front for the carrying angle, and from the side for flexion deformity.
  • Look for scars, rashes, muscle wasting, rheumatoid nodules, psoriatic plaques, and swellings such as olecranon bursitis.


  • Using the back of your hand, feel the temperature across the joint and the forearm.
  • Hold the forearm with one hand and, with the elbow flexed to 90°, palpate the elbow, feeling the head of the radius and the joint line with your thumb. If there is swelling, is it fluctuant? Synovitis is usually felt as a fullness between the olecranon and the lateral epicondyle.
  • Palpate the medial and lateral epicondyles (for golfer’s and tennis elbow respectively) and the olecranon process for tenderness and evidence of bursitis.


  • Does the elbow extend fully and flex fully? Assess both actively and passively, and compare one side with the other.
  • Assess pronation and supination, both actively and passively, feeling for crepitus.


  • An important function of the elbow is to allow the hand to reach the mouth. Other functionally important movements (such as hands behind head) will have been assessed during the screening examination.

Examination of the elbow: checklist

  • Introduce yourself/gain consent to examine
  • Look for scars, swellings or rashes
  • Assess skin temperature
  • Palpate over head of radius, joint line, medial and lateral epicondyles
  • Assess full flexion and extension, pronation and supination – actively and passively
  • Assess function – e.g. hand to nose or mouth

We're now

Versus Arthritis.

You're being taken through to our new website in order to finish your donation.

Thank you for your generosity.

For more information, go to
Arthritis Research UK fund research into the cause, treatment and cure of arthritis. You can support Arthritis Research UK by volunteering, donating or visiting our shops.