Elbow won't Straighten without pain

Patient

Q: I can't straighten my elbow or touch my shoulder without pain after falling on my arm when it was extended two weeks ago. When I try to straighten my elbow it just won't staighten and there is pain. When I try to touch my shoulder I Can't and there is pain in my forearm. What is wrong with my elbow and arm? Should I see a doctor

Doctor

A:   Thank you for writing to Ask The Doctor.

I have gone through your query and have found 3 issues to address:
Your elbow won't straighten
Your elbow has not straightened after the fall
And you are not able to extend the elbow without pain

To explain the above, you will need to understand more about the elbow and the tissue that forms it.

If you can actively move your elbow: flexion and extension, and you do not have any remarkable swelling or deformity, then you do not need to go to the hospital but if this is not the case and on the contrary you develop significant swelling or deformity and you cannot move actively the elbow, then you should go to the Emergency Room to be assessed by a physician and get X rays taken to rule out a fracture or dislocation.

The suggested strategy in the case that you can actively move the elbow and you have no significant swelling or deformity would be: you must apply ice to the elbow 4 to 6 times during this first 24 hours for periods no more than 15 minutes each time to avoid swelling, and also ease the pain, continue taking Advil every 8 hours for the first 3 days and then 1 or 2 times a day as needed. After the first 24 hours from the fall, you will start applying on your elbow warm and wet compresses for periods of no more than 15 minutes each time, 2-3 times a day, also you can do series of active movements of flexion and extension of the elbow.

You feel the pain moving down your arm because the nerve of the elbow might be involved in the traumatism and swelling. The pain after the fall could persist for about 2-4 weeks but eventually will disappear. Keep doing flexion-extension movements and stretching until you reach your normal functional range of motion.

In this ways, you will gradually be able to straighten the elbow. Know that this can take a long time and I advise you to remain patient.

Wishing you a speedy recovery.

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