Founded in 1856, St John & St Elizabeth Hospital is one of the UK’s largest independent charitable hospitals. Our commitment to our patients is in the quality of our care, the range of our services and the quality of our consultants and staff.
St John & St Elizabeth Hospital is renowned for its highly specialised clinics that provide exemplary care for patients. Our expert Consultants cover the full range of specialties and are able to treat almost any medical condition.
Elbow fractures, breaks and other injuries and conditions require specialised elbow treatment plans so that you can get back to normal.
Elbow injuries are among the most common problems you can have in children and adults — partly because it tends to be an awkward part of the body that juts out and all too often bumps into things, and you get hurt.
Almost everyone, for instance, has bashed their “funny bone” against something and felt pain and numbness. Actually, it’s not a bone at all, but a nerve — the ulnar nerve, which starts in the neck and goes all the way down to the hand. It got named the “funny bone” because people often describe a slightly funny feeling when they hit it against something — although others may say there’s nothing funny about a painful experience. Whatever the sensation and reaction, it’s not an injury you need to worry about because any uncomfortable feelings usually soon go away.
Other conditions affecting the elbow can be more troubling, however, and may require surgical intervention and ongoing elbow treatment. The expert elbow specialists here at our London Elbow Clinic see a wide range of elbow injuries. In this post, we look at some of them, so if you’re unfortunate to experience one, you may recognise the symptoms and know what to expect in terms of remedies.
Anatomy and function of the elbow
You may think that the elbow is a relatively simple and inconsequential part of the body that joins the upper and lower arm and allows it to bend, but it’s a joint whose structure is complex. It’s a hinged joint containing several parts that can easily be injured, including the three bones it connects: the humerus of the upper arm with the ulna and radius of the lower arm.
Cartilage surrounds the parts where the three bones meet, allowing them to easily move. In addition, this rubbery type of connective tissue can absorb shocks. And holding everything together are ligaments, an elastic tissue that supports joints like the elbow. Also packed into this small area of the body are several kinds of fibrous connective tissue — called tendons — that connect the bones to the various muscles in the arm, such as the biceps and triceps at the front and back of the arm.
Then there are the nerves, including the funny bone one we mentioned earlier. The other main nerves running through the elbow are the median nerve and the radial nerve. Their function is to stimulate the muscles in the arm and relay sensory information, such as touch, pain and temperature, to the brain. When these nerves become trapped, it may lead to numbness that extends to the hand and can make using your hand difficult. If this is the case, you might need specific elbow treatment to fix the problem.
Common elbow injuries and treatments
Elbow breaks and fractures
Elbow fractures and breaks are common injuries treated by the elbow specialists here at our London Elbow Clinic. They can be caused by a fall — for example, when you put your arm out to try and protect yourself — or during sports, if something or someone hits you in the elbow. Elbow breaks and fractures can also occur during vehicle collisions, like in a car crash, and require immediate treatment.
You may know you have an elbow fracture if there’s swelling around the elbow and bruises appear; there might also be some stiffness in the area, as well as pain. Your arm may feel slightly numb or even weak, a feeling that extends to the hand. In more severe cases, there may be a visible sign that something is broken in your elbow. Some people hear something snap when they break their elbow.
An X-ray, like that pictured above, will show the alignment of the elbow and its bones and if anything is fractured or broken. An elbow specialist will also give the area a physical examination, feeling the outline of the bones and seeing if they might need realignment by manipulating them back to place. If that’s not possible and there’s a bad break, surgery will be done to correct the bones, possibly with wires and screws. A plaster cast will typically be used around the elbow and part of the arm to support it as it heals.
Repetitive use — and overuse — of the forearm and elbow often gives rise to what’s commonly known as tennis elbow. This painful condition can indeed be caused by playing tennis and other racquet games like squash, but its official name is lateral epicondylitis. Other causes include various types of manual labour, such as carpentry and even typing. (We’d better take a break from writing this long post, or we might have to see one of our elbow specialists.)
This injury develops when tendons in the elbow and arm become strained and inflamed, and there may also be microscopic tears in the fibres. The forearm and elbow will feel stiff and painful, and treatment typically begins with some physiotherapy exercises and massaging, but surgery may be needed if it doesn’t improve.
Cubital tunnel syndrome
Pressure on that not-so-funny funny bone, as well as stretching of it, can develop into cubital tunnel syndrome. Causes include different types of manual work, various sports or just bending the elbow or leaning on it for long periods. It can be painful, and there can be numbness in the ring and little fingers, leading to difficulty using the hand with its full function.
An elbow specialist will examine the area and may also do an electromyography test to determine the condition of the nerves and how they’re stimulating muscles. Treatment includes placing a splint around the area so that the elbow doesn’t bend and pressure is relieved on the nerve, physiotherapy and, sometimes, surgery.
General wear and tear over many years can lead to elbow osteoarthritis, a painful condition that’s extremely common in the UK, affecting around 8.5 million people. It’s a result of the cushioning cartilage being worn away, and so the bones scrape together, leading to high levels of discomfort and pain. Osteoarthritis in the elbow can also be caused by sports that place pressure on the elbow joints, such as in baseball.
The type of elbow treatment for this condition usually centres around physiotherapy and corticosteroid injections. Surgery may be necessary in some cases, especially if there’s a build-up of bone or cartilage fragments in the joints that need removal because it’s causing pain.
Other types of problems our elbow specialists commonly treat include golfer’s elbow, which occurs on the opposite, or inner, side of the elbow compared to tennis elbow, and biceps tendon tears, which causes sharp pain and is the result of an injury. An experienced elbow specialist will work to ensure that pain and symptoms are alleviated and that you will recover normal function.
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