Physical therapy for a broken elbow can help you restore elbow range of motion, strength and overall functional use of your arm. An elbow fracture can be a painful injury. It can lead to decreased mobility in your arm, shoulder or wrist. An elbow fracture also can limit your ability to work, perform household chores, or participate in recreational activities.
Physiotherapy aims to restore joint mobility and strength, as well as your range of motion so that you can return back to normal or near-normal activity.
Common signs of a broken elbow include:
- Pain in the elbow, upper arm, or forearm
- Swelling around the elbow
- Bruising or discoloration around the elbow
- Loss of motion around the elbow or forearm
- Deformity (such as a lump or bump) near the elbow or arm
The elbow is a joint where the arm bone (humerus) meets the bones of the forearm (radius and ulna). The bony end of the ulna is called the olecranon process. This is the bone that you feel when you are leaning your elbow on a table. The bones of the elbow are connected together by ligaments on the inner and outer part of your arm.
It may seem obvious, but the most common cause of elbow fractures is trauma to your arm near your elbow. This can be due to falls on your elbow or outstretched arm, automobile accidents, or sports-related injuries.
An injury typically happens suddenly, often are due to a blunt force impact that fractures either the radial head (located at the top of the smaller forearm bone), the distal humerus (the lower part of the upper arm bone), or the olcrenon (ball of the elbow joint), compound fractures and dislocations can also occur.
An X-ray is used to diagnose an elbow fracture. The X-ray can show the placement of the bones and can help your doctor decide the best way to fix your fractured elbow. Occasionally, a type of X-ray known as computed tomography (CT) scan may be used to get a better view by creating cross-sectional images of the joint along the length of the injury.
After a diagnosis of a fractured elbow is made, your doctor will reduce the fracture. This is the process where your elbow bones are put in the correct position so that optimal healing can take place. Reduction of a fractured elbow can be done manually.
If the fracture is severe, your surgeon may recommend an open reduction internal fixation (ORIF). This involves an incision to manually realign the bones, followed the insertion of screws, plates, or wires to hold the bones in the correct position.
After your elbow fracture is reduced, you may be required to wear a brace or a sling. Occasionally a cast will be applied, although it is felt that immobilization of an elbow fracture with a cast may cause severe stiffness and permanent loss of mobility.
A major problem with an elbow fracture is stiffness that limits the range of motion. Sometimes, this stiffness persists long after the fractured bones have healed. Therefore, your doctor may have you start physiotherapy soon after the injury to help introduce early motion to your healing elbow.
Your physiotherapist may work with you to help you regain normal use of your elbow and arm. They may use many different physiotherapy treatments and modalities to help you quickly return to normal activity. Some impairments that you may work on in physical therapy may include:
Range of Motion
One of the main goals of physical therapy after an elbow fracture is to restore normal range of motion (ROM) to the elbow. The elbow is a complex joint that allows you to bend your arm or turn your hand over. Restoring the full ROM of the elbow and forearm is paramount to regaining normal use of your arm. As a rule, the early introduction of ROM therapy achieves not only better but faster results.
After an elbow fracture, pain and swelling in your elbow may keep you from using your arm. You may also be required to wear your arm in a sling, thus limiting the use of your elbow, wrist, and hand. Your physiotherapist can teach you strengthening exercises for your shoulder and elbow.
They can also prescribe exercises to help improve wrist and hand strength that can help you regain normal use of your arm.
Your elbow fracture should be fully healed about two months after injury and you should have normal use of your arm about three months after injury. It is quite common to still experience some mild loss of mobility after this time, so it is very important to continue the range of motion and strength exercises that you learned in physiotherapy.
Our physiotherapist at The Bali Physio will help you quickly and safely return to normal activity after an elbow fracture.