Acute Elbow Injuries

Bones of the elbow jointAcute elbow injuries are caused by a sudden impact or trauma.

Acute elbow injuries include bone fractures, elbow dislocations, ligament sprains and tendon ruptures and are usually caused by a fall onto the arm or elbow or a collision in contact sports.

Below we outline the most common acute elbow injuries including broken elbow, dislocated elbow, medial ligament sprain and strains to the biceps and triceps tendons.

For more detailed information on rehab programs click on the links below.

Elbow fractures

Broken elbow or fractured elbow is a serious traumatic injury and needs urgent medial assistance. If the fractured bones have not moved more than 2mm apart then the fracture is usually treated with a plaster cast followed by a splint and rehabilitation program. If the bones have moved further apart then because of potential complications with elbow fractures surgery is usually indicated.

One complication that can arise following an elbow fracture is stiffness in the elbow joint with restricted movement, specifically inability to straighten the elbow. A full and early elbow rehab program is required to avoid this complication arising.

Another complication is heteroptopic ossification or unwanted bone growth in the joint. This is more likely with a severe traumatic injury or if mobility exercises are forced or manipulated. Gentle mobilization is required. This has also been identified as an issue where surgery has been performed on the elbow between one and five days after the initial trauma. Surgery should be done preferably within the first 24 hours or after 5 to 7 days to be safer.

Dislocated elbow

Elbow joint from the sideDislocated elbow or to be more specific a posterior dislocation of the elbow is when the forearm bone or ulna dislocates backwards out of the joint. This is a particularly serious injury as complications such as a fracture to the end of the radius bone in the forearm or restricted blood supply to the forearm can occur. A dislocated elbow is likely to have been caused by falling onto the arm from height or in a contact sport collision.

Medial colateral ligament rupture

Medial elbow ligamentAn acute rupture, sprain or tear of the medial colateral ligament (MCL) in the elbow is a tear of the ligament on the inside of the elbow. Injury to the MCL can occur through an impact in contact sports or from repeated overuse such as in poor throwing technique which puts too much strain on the medial ligament of the elbow.

Symptoms include tenderness and pain when pressing in over the ligament on the inside of the elbow. A bad sprain my result in swelling and bruising around the elbow. Pain may also be reproduce by stressing the ligament which can be done by slightly bending the arm and applying a force to the outside of the elbow. The degree of laxity in the joint should be assessed and if a complete rupture is suspected then surgery may be required.

Tendon ruptures

Triceps muscleTriceps tendon strain or rupture at its insertion into the bone at the elbow is rare but can occur from a severe impact such as falling onto outstretched arms or possibly from a direct impact to the bottom of the elbow. An avulsion rupture is where the tendon comes away from the bone and takes a small piece of bone with it. Sudden severe pain will be felt at the back of the elbow in the case of a triceps tendon strain or avulsion strain / rupture.

Biceps tendon strain at its insertion on the inside or front of the elbow is also rare but has been known in weight lifting and other strength type sports and activities. A tear of the tendon may follow a period of biceps tendinitis that is not treated and managed correctly.