Elbow injuries can be difficult and frustrating to overcome. These types of injuries are often unpredictable, with varying degrees of severity that may require a variety of treatments depending on the type and extent of injury. Elbows provide stability as well as mobility for individuals’ arms so when there is an elbow injury, it can be very challenging to use your arm without pain or discomfort. The most common causes for these kinds of injuries include car accidents, sports-related incidents such as falling from a bicycle or collision during soccer play, falls down stairs or off tables, lifting heavy objects improperly or repetitive stress while playing too many video games (causing tendonitis).
Many people with fractures need not undergo surgery. Orthopedic doctors recommend immobilizing the affected arm and joint while it heals, which can take anywhere between one month to six months depending on what type of fracture you have sustained. Physical therapy will help maintain muscle strength in your arms and preserve range of motion within joints during recovery time; this helps prevent permanent stiffness or pain from occurring as a result of trauma that has happened beforehand.
Many doctors will recommend using a device to immobilize your elbow while it heals. These are most commonly made of plaster or fiberglass and provide support for the arm so that you can avoid placing weight on the area which may cause additional pain. Physical therapy is recommended after wearing an immobilization device so that muscles in your arms stay strong and joints can continue to move without any restrictions.
A sling is a flexible fabric device that loops around your neck or back and holds your arm in front of your chest in a bent position. Many slings have Velcro® straps that can be adjusted to customize the positioning of your arm, allowing it to remain immobile while also remaining comfortable.
People with a shoulder fracture are more likely to be prescribed slings. A sling may be worn for four to six weeks to treat a fractured clavicle. A sling may be required for up to two weeks for a fractured proximal humerus. Doctors usually recommend wearing a sling for a fractured scapula until you can move your shoulder without pain, which can take anywhere from two to four weeks.
A splint is a rigid device that is held in place by soft straps and conforms to the shape of your arm. If you have a fractured distal humerus or olecranon, the bony tip of your elbow, your doctor may recommend a splint.
If your doctor determines that holding your elbow at a specific angle is the best way to allow the fracture to heal, a splint may be used. Splints are usually worn for one to three weeks, or longer in the case of more serious fractures.
Your doctor may recommend immobilizing your arm in a plaster cast for three weeks if you have fractured the bony tip of your elbow, the olecranon.
Doctors apply soft, malleable plaster to the arm to make a cast. When the plaster dries, it hardens, protecting the injured bone while it heals and preventing you from moving your elbow.
Doctors may also use a bone stimulation machine, which helps healing by sending electrical pulses to the area. The stimulator sends electric impulses through electrodes that are attached to your skin and connected with wires that connect them to a generator or power source.
Physical therapy may also aid in the faster healing of a fracture when compared to immobilization alone. Even small hand movements increase blood flow throughout the arm, bringing more oxygen and nutrients to the injured parts of the bone and speeding up the healing process.
After the bone has healed and the sling has been removed, doctors frequently recommend additional physical therapy to strengthen muscles in the shoulder and arm, increase flexibility in muscles that were not moving while the bone healed, and restore range of motion in the affected joint or joints.
Depending on factors such as the location and extent of the injury, as well as how long your arm was immobilized, your doctor and physical therapist will determine how long physical therapy should be continued.
An elbow injury can negatively impact your quality of life, but good treatment options exist.
Your doctor will work with you to determine the best course of action for your specific problem. The key is being up-to-date on what happens when an elbow joint or bone fracture occurs in order to ensure that it heals properly and doesn’t leave you with permanent damage.
Dr. Chen sees patients at Saint Francis Memorial Hospital Center for Sports Medicine in Walnut Creek, California. He is a board certified Pediatrician and Sports Medicine Doctor that specializes in the non-operative medical treatment of a wide variety of various musculoskeletal conditions. Dr. Chen graduated from St. George’s University School of Medicine and went on to complete Pediatric residency training at the University of Medicine and Dentistry in New Jersey (Rutgers), then went on to fellowship training in Sports Medicine at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, one of the perennially top ranked children’s hospitals in the nation. There he provided sideline coverage for NCAA Division I athletics at the University of Cincinnati and Miami University (OH). Since graduating, Dr. Chen has continued his love of sports coverage by volunteering for the San Francisco Marathon, the San Francisco Giant Race, and as the team physician for Northgate High School in Walnut Creek. Being a part of The Center for Sports Medicine allows Dr. Chen quick access to a multidisciplinary team of orthopedic surgeons, podiatrists, physiatrists, and physical therapists to return you to your highest functional level quickly and safely. Click here to contact us for your next appointment!