Joints are the body's shocks – they absorb the impact of our falls, runs, jumps and other activities. As the center of articulation between the upper bone of the arm (humerus) and the forearm bones (ulna, radius), the elbow is an important joint for range of motion and mobility; as such, elbow injuries can prove quite a serious hindrance. Those who are at most risk include the elderly and those who are involved in more demanding sports activities such as snowboarding, skiing, mountain climbing, etc.
Elbow dislocation usually occurs when one falls on an outstretched or extended arm, typically while playing contact sports or during a fall. The resulting injury involves acute pain in the elbow as well as a loss of range of motion and extension, it may also appear as though the elbow is deformed or bent awkwardly.
Dislocation can be remedied by re-aligning the elbow joint correctly, a procedure that should only be performed by a medical provider as the patient will need pain medication and an x-ray.
A bone fracture is defined as a break in the continuity of the bone and is usually the result of high force impact or stress. Bone fractures may also be a result of a pre-existing medical condition that weakens the bones such as cancer or osteoporosis.
Much like a dislocation, fractures cause acute, localized pain, swelling, bruising and joint deformity. In the case that you believe you have experienced an elbow fracture, be sure to have it attended to as soon as possible to minimize long term complications. Typically a fracture will need time to heal so the arm may be placed in an arm brace or other elbow support.
Chronic Elbow Injuries
Chronic elbow injuries are conditions that occur over the long term, usually lasting more than 2 weeks, and are accompanied by recurrent pain, stiffness, or loss of motion. These injuries can be the result of repeated injuries, other medical conditions, or previous trauma. One of the most common causes of chronic elbow (and general joint) pain is arthritis. There are three type of arthritis – OA (osteoarthritis), PA (posttraumatic arthritis), and RA (rheumatoid arthritis), all of which may cause recurring elbow pain. Patients with OA may experience a locking or catching sensation in the joint, while those with RA typically experience swelling and joint deformity.
Another familiar chronic elbow injury is tendinitis, the inflammation of a tendon. Tendons are a tough tissue that connect bones to muscles and withstand substantial tension and their inflammation can arise from frequent, physically demanding activity (repetitive motion injury). For example, mountain climbers will typically develop tendinitis in their fingers and elbows while swimmers may develop it in their shoulders. Symptoms of tendinitis can include stiffness, aches, pains and burning around the inflamed tendon. Fortunately, anti-inflammatory medicines and psychical therapy can alleviate pain and injury. Rest, ice, compression and elevation are the four main components to recovery from tendinitis. Using cold therapy to keep swelling and inflammation at bay can alleviate pain and minimize long term damage.
Keep in mind that older adults are at higher risk for elbow injuries and fractures because they lose muscle mass and bone strength as they age. Vision and balance problems may also contribute to falling and injuries.