Elbow & Hand Surgical Repairs / Reconstruction
Elbow fracture can occur as a result of a trauma, such as a fall while you’re playing sports or while you’re just walking on a sidewalk. Fractures due to falls happen most often when people stretch the arm straight out to catch themselves as they fall. When you fall on the ground, the force travels up through the wrist, hand, and forearm and into the elbow. Fracture also can occur if you fall directly on the elbow itself.
Signs and Symptoms
An elbow fracture is painful and tender. The elbow and surrounding region swell up, and you lose ability to move your elbow or wrist. The pain is located where the bone broke and may hurt even when you’re not moving the arm; but it will probably hurt more when you move the elbow or when the elbow is touched.
How Is It Diagnosed?
An x-ray is the best way to diagnose an elbow fracture. If a physical therapist suspects that that you have an elbow fracture, the therapist may arrange for an x-ray and refer you to an appropriate physician. The physical therapist can check for damage to other joints and muscles and make sure that the nerves and blood vessels in your arm have not been affected by the broken bone.
In most cases, people with fractures visit a physician with a specialty in managing bones and joints (orthopedist). Depending on the type of fracture, the physician might prescribe a cast or a sling, or, with severe fractures, surgery.
How Can Your Physical Therapist Help?
While Your Elbow Is in a Cast or a Sling:
While your bone heals, your arm will be in a cast or a sling to keep your arm still and promote healing. During that time, it will be important that your arm not get too stiff, weak, or swollen. Depending on the amount of activity that is allowed for your type of fracture, your physical therapist will prescribe exercises to keep your shoulder, wrist, and hand moving while you are in the cast or sling.
So the rest of the body doesn’t get out of shape, most people with elbow fracture will slowly return to exercising the other arm and the legs. Physical therapists can help you adapt your exercise program so that you can maintain your overall strength and fitness.
When the Cast or Sling Is Removed:
Your elbow will most likely be stiff, and your arm will be weak, especially if you had surgery. Your physical therapist will help prevent permanent loss of movement in the elbow, so don’t delay your visit.
Your physical therapist will examine your elbow and select treatments based on your goals, level of physical activity, and general health.
Increase Your Strength and Your Ability to Move:
Physical therapists prescribe several types of exercises during recovery from an elbow fracture. Early on, your therapist can help you begin to gently move your elbow, using “passive range-of-motion” exercises. As your arm gets stronger, you can exercise it yourself without weights (“active range of motion”). Once the bone is well healed, you can begin using weights or resistance bands. In addition to range-of-motion and strengthening exercises, the therapist can help you retrain your muscles to react quickly when you need to protect yourself from a fall.
Relieve Your Stiffness:
Your physical therapist may use skilled hand movements called manual therapy to enable your joints and muscles to move more freely with less pain.Get You
Back to Your Daily Activities:
Your physical therapist will help you remain independent by teaching you how to do your daily activities—such as dressing, working on a computer, and housekeeping—even while wearing a cast or a sling.
Prepare You for More Demanding Activities:
Depending on the requirements of your job or the type of sports you play, you might need additional physical therapy that is tailored for these demands. A physical therapist can develop a specialized program for you.
Reduce Your Pain:
To help control the pain and swelling in your arm, your physical therapist might use either warm or cold therapeutic treatments or electrical stimulation.
Everything that the physical therapist does will help you prevent long-term disability:
Returning the arm to a good level of fitness
Restoring full movement and strength in a safe manner while healing occurs
Assessing the fracture to make sure that you can return safely to previous home and work activities
Guiding you to a safe return to sports and other physical activities—a return too early after a fracture may increase the risk of another fracture
Recommending protective equipment, such as wrist guards or elbow pads, for use during sports