There are many different ways that a dog can injure his or her elbow or elbow joint, but one of the most challenging to diagnose without surgery or good x-rays is a condition known as fragmented medial coronoid process. In this situation, typically associated with breeds that have a problem with elbow dysplasia, a small piece of bone, often just a tiny chip, breaks off from the top of the ulna and lodges in the joint.
The ulna is one of the two long bones found in the front leg below the elbow. As the largest joint of the two into the elbow, it often runs the greatest risk of becoming damaged or fractured, leading to chipping of the head of the ulna at the elbow joint. This can occur due to stress on the joint because of a dislocated elbow, problems with softening of the bones, or trauma or injury to the joint that causes splintering and fractures.
As you can imagine this bone chips is then floating or moving through the lubricating fluid found in the elbow joint. If it lodges in the joint it becomes extremely painful for the dog to move the joint at all. In some locations that the chip may become stuck there may only be restricted movement or pain when moving the leg a particular direction, while other movement may be less problematic.
To make diagnosis more complicated is the fact that the condition may seem to come and go, especially in the initial stages before the whole elbow joint becomes irritated and inflamed. As the bone fragment lodges in the bone it will further erode the joint and lead to greater chances of elbow dysplasia as the wear and damage to the joint becomes more severe. Early detection is the key to minimizing the ongoing problems with fragmented medial coronoid process.
To diagnose the condition x-rays are usually recommended. In addition to standard X-rays CT scans may also be completed on the joint to allow the vet to see a more detailed representation of the fragment and problem within the joint. If the x-ray or scan shows any type of irregularity a diagnostic arthroscopic procedure will be done to be as minimally invasive as possible to the joint area. If this is not successful then a small incision will be done on the inside of the elbow area and the fragment will be removed surgically.
Most dogs that have the arthroscopic surgery will be using the leg within one two days with full recovery within a few days. For a full surgical procedure the dog will take longer in recovery, with some senior dogs needing two to three months of limited activity to allow full healing of the joint. During this time pain management drugs may be prescribed as well as anti-inflammatory medications and antibiotics to treat any possible infections.