After Your Broken Elbow: Restoring Full Use Of Your Arm

Posted on: 13 July 2016


Your broken elbow has been a literal pain the neck -- arm-- for several weeks. However, once the sling is off, you'll be more than happy to dive into activity again. However, it's typical that your elbow joint will be very still after the broken bones have healed. You will have to do some rehabilitation on the joint before you are able to bring it back to full usability. Here is what you can expect when helping your elbow fully recover.

Range Of Motion

The primary concern for elbow fractures is that the fracture can limit the full use of your arm when range of motion is diminished. Soon after your bone is set and the healing process is beginning, your doctor will want to begin taking steps toward getting your range of motion back after the elbow is healed. Sometimes, your doctor may set your joint with a spring-loaded splint that allows you to gently straighten and bend your arm without putting too much strain on the fracture -- the spring helps to act an an "elbow" of sorts until the joint is strong enough to support the motion fully again. 

Because splinted elbows are often carried in a sling, your shoulder, neck, and wrist can also become sore and stiff. Take time each day to remove the sling and rotate the shoulder, shake out the wrist, and stretch your neck to prevent pain in other areas as you are healing. 

Strength Improvement

Not being able to bear weight on your arm because the elbow fractures can also reduce the overall strength you have in your entire arm, especially the wrist. Even your shoulder will weaken, because it is not able to assist in the usual work of the arm that engages the shoulder and back. After the split is removed, you can try some of these exercises to help bring your arm strength up to par:

  1. Flexing the wrist with dumbbells. Using light weights (1 or 3 pounds are common), hold the weight in your fist. Lay your hand and forearm on the table facing up and bend the weight up using the wrist. This may be hard at first, but it should not be overly painful. 
  2. Twisting with weights. Instead of lifting the weight from the table, you can improve lost wrist strength by grasping the weight and turning your hand like you would turn a door knob. After an elbow fracture, the two major muscle groups in your forearm weaken, and this exercise will improve those muscles and the wrist joint. 
  3. Lifting your arms straight out from your sides and making small circles with the weights. This helps bring good movement and strength into the shoulders. 

For more information on recovering from a broken elbow, talk to a physical therapist near you. Click here to learn more about sports injury physical therapy.