This preliminary study of four elbow specimens investigates the relationship of articular geometry and ligamentous structures in providing stability to the elbow joint. A technique is presented that describes the constraining features of varus-valgus and distraction in extension and at 90 degree of elbow flexion. Valgus stability is equally divided among the medial collateral ligament, anterior capsule, and bony articulation in full extension; whereas, at 90 degrees of flexion the contribution of the anterior capsule is assumed by the medial collateral ligament which provides approximately 55% of the stabilizing contribution to valgus stress. Varus stress is noted to be resisted primarily by the anterior capsule (32%) and the joint articulation (55%) with only a small (14%) contribution from the radial collateral ligament. At 90 degrees of flexion, little change is noted in the contribution to the radial collateral ligament (9%), but the anterior capsule offers only 13%, with the remaining stability (75%) arising from the joint articulation. In extension, the soft tissue resistance to distraction is provided minimally by either the radial (5%) or the medial (5%) collateral ligaments, and thus primarily originates from the anterior capsule (85%). At 90 degrees of flexion, however, the capsule offers virtually no resistance to distraction (8%). The radial collateral ligament contributes 10% of the stability, while the medial collateral ligament accounts for 78% of the resistance to distraction in this position. Too few specimens have been studied to form any conclusions for direct clinical applications at this time. However, the technique provides a reliable tool with additional studies for different positions and loading conditions underway. These efforts should disclose useful information that might be applied to the management of chronic elbow instability, radial head or olecranon fracture, the design and implantation of elbow prostheses, or provide a rationale for other reconstructive procedures.

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