After an injury to your elbow, you may be experiencing swelling, as well as the inability to straighten out the joint. Even after months of healing and increased mobility, your elbow may still resist complete straightening. Don’t worry; you’re not alone. Consulting an orthopedist and a physical therapist may be helpful, and among the helpful advice they will offer, you will likely learn the following tidbits.
View Your Elbow as a Tortoise
You know the old fable about the tortoise and the hare, don’t you? The slow-but-steady tortoise wins the race. Well, since elbows are among your body’s joints, elbows are especially prone to respond to slow but gentle stretching. Think of them as tortoises. That doesn’t mean they can’t be rehabilitated, just that therapy has to be done at the elbow’s own pace. Whether your elbow experienced trauma through a fracture, surgery, or other injury, the typical consequence is a “contracture,” or lag in the range of motion. Unlike that of other joints, the elbow’s soft tissue tends to resist aggressive stretching. If you do push the ranges of motion, you will probably experience increased inflammation and decreased range of motion. Of course, this kind of result is unfavorable and can be quite painful.
Slow, Gentle Stretching Can Help
Just because aggressive stretching is typically unprofitable, does not mean that any stretching will be detrimental to your elbow. In fact, a simple exercise can be extremely helpful. Start by lying on your back, on the floor. Place a pillow under the forearm connected to your problem elbow; that position will allow your arm to rest while ever-so-slightly stretching the elbow. Make sure your shoulder remains resting on the floor, and adjust the support under your forearm in order to allow for that, if needed.
Once you’re in position, plan for a 10- to 15-minute process of nursing your elbow into extension. You can do so by contracting your triceps muscles to press your forearm into the pillow for about ten seconds of every minute. You will basically be allowing your elbow to “rest” into an extension position.
As you regularly perform such slow stretching exercises, you will see an improvement in range of motion and will be able to decrease the amount of support under your forearm. During this stretching routine, you need to make sure you’re imposing a minimal amount of stretching on your shoulder — maybe a 1 or 2 on a 1-10 scale. If your shoulder is experiencing too much stretch, adjust the pillow for a more comfortable level of flexion.
Eventually, you should enjoy full restoration of your elbow’s range of motion. If you’re not seeing improvement — or experience a reversal — in your elbow’s progress, make sure to see your local PT.
PhysioDC of Washington, D.C. is a boutique physical therapy center which helps patients recover, strengthen, and return to healthy living after they travel or on a day-to-day lifestyle. Located in downtown Washington, D.C., PhysioDC is an excellent resource to contact for all joint and body pain. For more information on physical therapy for your body, visit PhysioDC at www.physiodc.com. PhysioDC is located in downtown D.C. at 1001 Connecticut Avenue NW, Suite 330 (at the corners of K Street and Connecticut Avenue NW).
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