Regain Strength and Motion After an Elbow Fracture

If you have fallen on an outstretched arm and fractured your elbow, you want to know how long it will take to get the joint functioning again. Unfortunately, there is no simple answer. In the elbow, the upper arm bone, or humerus, meets the two bones of the forearm, the radius and the ulna. This creates three separate joints that allow the elbow to make four different movements: flexion, extension, supination (turning the palm face up) and pronation (turning the palm face down). The complexity of the elbow joint means there is no one-size-fits-all rehabilitation timeline. One thing is certain, however: Without early physical therapy, the elbow will become stiff, painful and weak, and lose range of motion (ROM).

Factors that can ensure effective elbow rehabilitation include

  • Age: Younger people usually heal more quickly and often regain complete elbow function.
  • Number of bones involved: Typically, the fewer bones and bone chips/fragments involved, the shorter the time for rehabilitation.
  • Stability of fracture: A stable fracture is likely to stay in a good position to heal on its own. An unstable fracture needs to be flexed in place surgically to heal in proper alignment. The surgical procedure used can affect the rehabilitation timeline.
  • Collateral damage to ligaments and tendons surrounding the joint: Without softtissue damage, rehabilitation will be less complicated.

To successfully rehabilitate an elbow fracture, early ROM exercises are essential. However, the fracture must also be protected against excessive movement for up to six weeks while it heals. Our experienced physical therapists will work with your physician to develop a rehabilitation program that safely addresses regaining ROM while protecting the fracture. After the fracture has healed, more vigorous stretching and strengthening exercises will help you return to the maximal amount of elbow function, enabling you to resume your normal routine.