When your elbow takes the brunt of a fall or is injured in some other way, you may notice that once the swelling subsides, you still lack the ability to fully straighten that joint. This disability can last for months after the injury, even when no bones have been broken. A visit to an orthopedic surgeon or physical therapist may be in order, but if you go see them, they’ll probably explain the following details related to elbow trauma.
The most significant principle of elbow recovery is that elbows typically respond well to slow, gentle stretching. Whether you’re recovering from elbow surgery, an elbow fracture, or another type of elbow trauma, “contractures” are probably the result. These lags of motion are not easily—or quickly—addressed. This is definitely a situation in which less is more. Overzealous for recovery, many elbow trauma patients unwittingly delay their full recovery by stretching too much, too soon. Aggressive stretching or pushing the ranges of motion can actually cause the soft tissue of the elbow to respond quite unfavorably, becoming more inflamed and even worsening the contracture issues.
The elbow tissue responds much better to gentle and slow stretching over longer periods of time. If you’re unable to straighten your elbow fully, a simple exercise may be all you need to re-establish the full range of motion in this pivotal joint.
First, lie on the floor, facing upward, with your forearm resting on a pillow. This position should allow your arm to rest while stretching ever-so-slightly. If needed, adjust the support under your forearm in order to make sure you won’t be tempted to lift your shoulder off the floor, causing too much stretching for the exercise to be profitable.
Once you have the proper amount of support under your forearm, promote extension of your elbow by allowing it to rest into an extended position for a maximum of ten or fifteen minutes. For ten seconds of each minute during that timeframe, contract your triceps, gently pressing your forearm into the pillow supporting it.
As you perform this exercise daily, you should begin to notice an improvement in your range of motion. As your elbow is able to extend more fully, you can continue the exercise with less support under your forearm. By contrast, if your position is forcing your elbow to stretch more than a one or two level (on a scale of one-to-ten), you need to adjust your forearm support so the amount of flexion is more comfortable and more conducive to elbow recovery.
With this kind of gentle stretching regimen, you should experience slow but steady progress, eventually leading to your ability to fully extend your elbow, once again.
PhysioDC of Washington, D.C.
Daniel Baumstark and his professional team of physical therapists operate a boutique physical therapy office in downtown Washington, D.C. From athletes to government officials, and from ballerinas to corporate executives, PhysioDC helps people recover, strengthen and return to healthy living. Visit their website at www.PhysioDC.com or call them at 202-223-8500.
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