Healing from Elbow Fracture Repair Surgery: What to Expect

You have three bones forming your elbow joint: the distal humerus, the radial head, and the olecranon. 

The distal humerus is the part of your upper elbow at the bottom of the arm bone that attaches your elbow to your shoulder. Your radial head is the knobby part of your radius where your forearm meets your elbow. 

The bony point of your elbow joint is the olecranon. This area of your ulna — the second bone in your forearm — cups the bottom of your humerus. It also provides the hinge-like movement in your elbow. 

When you break your elbow, you actually fracture the olecranon. While some fractures can heal without surgery, you usually need medical care to realign your elbow structure and restore function to the joint.

Dr. Edward R. Dupay Jr. always takes a conservative approach to treatment at Orthopedic Associates of Southwest Florida in Fort Myers, Florida. When nonsurgical therapies aren’t an option, he also offers minimally invasive, arthroscopic surgical techniques when possible. This approach causes less trauma to the treatment site, resulting in less pain and stiffness and a shorter recovery time.

Whether you have traditional elbow surgery, arthroscopic repair, or reconstructive surgery, Dr. Dupay has these insights into what to expect during your recovery process.

Immobilization

During your elbow repair surgery, Dr. Dupay puts your bones back in place, sometimes securing them with metal pins or screws. This helps hold your bones together while they heal. 

To support your recovery, you can expect to wear a brace, splint, or sling. These immobilizing options allow for swelling in the area and some arm movement. However, Dr. Dupay could recommend a cast for greater support.

A splint, brace, sling, or cast ensures your elbow remains immobilized, which prevents your bones from shifting out of position while you heal.

Restrictions

No matter how long you need to keep your elbow immobilized, you can expect to have restrictions for at least six weeks. 

The most common restrictions after elbow surgery involve not lifting heavy objects with the affected arm and not using it to push or pull — like opening doors or getting up from a chair. It’s also likely that you won’t be able to drive for a short period.

While you can expect to have activity restrictions, you may be able to bathe, dress, and feed yourself without issue. However, Dr. Dupay provides specific instructions based on your injury and your procedure.

Physical therapy

A broken elbow can limit your ability to do simple daily tasks, do your work, and enjoy recreational activities. In some cases, stiffness and reduced range of motion can persist years after you heal. 

Fortunately, all elbow fractures benefit from physical therapy, and your exercises could begin as soon as the day after your surgery. Your program will focus on restoring strength and range of motion to your elbow and arm. 

Strength

Elbow surgery, especially if you have to wear a sling, can cause muscle loss around the shoulder, elbow, wrist, and hand. Your physical therapy will focus on restoring strength to these areas so you regain normal function in your arm.

Range of motion

Your elbow has the unique ability to bend like a hinge and turn your hand over. Exercises focusing on these movements typically begin as soon as possible because early introduction usually provides better results.

In most cases, you can resume normal activities within four months of your surgery. However, it can take up to a year to completely heal from a broken elbow. For best results, it’s essential to continue performing your physical therapy exercises every day, even when your formal program comes to an end.

To find expert orthopedic care for your elbow fracture, contact our office by calling 239-768-2272 or requesting an appointment online today.

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