Exercise Program after an Elbow Fracture

Physical Therapy Home Exercise Program for a Broken Elbow

Photo of a man holding his elbow.
Your physical therapist can help develop an appropriate exercise program for you after an elbow fracture. uchar/Getty Images

 If you have suffered a broken elbow, you may benefit from a course of physical therapy to help you regain functional mobility once the fracture has healed. Your PT will likely use therapeutic modalities to control pain and swelling, and exercises will be prescribed to help improve the range of motion (ROM) and strength in your elbow, shoulder, or wrist.

Your physical therapist will give you exercises to work on at home as part of a home exercise program. Remember that muscular attachments from your shoulder, elbow, and wrist and hand all reside around your elbow; your exercise program should include movements from your entire upper extremity.

Here is a step-by-step exercise program that is typical of one that your physical therapist may prescribe for elbow fracture rehab. Before starting this or any other exercise program for your elbow, be sure to check in with your doctor to ensure that exercise is safe for your specific condition.

Elbow and Wrist Range of Motion

Photo of woman with elbow pain working with her PT.
Your physical therapist can help you improve your elbow range of motion. BSIP/UIG/ Getty Images

 If you have broken your elbow, you likely wore a sling on your shoulder while things were healing. Although wearing a sling is necessary to protect your bones while they are healing, immobilization of your arm may cause the muscles, tendons, and joints of your arm to become tight. Performing ROM exercises for your elbow and wrist is a good first step in your elbow fracture rehab.

When performing elbow ROM exercises, be sure to focus on flexion, extension, pronation and supination. These motions are important in getting your elbow and forearm moving properly in all directions.

Shoulder Range of Motion

A therapist stretching a patient's shoulder.
Passive Shoulder ROM can be performed by your physical therapist. DNY59

Immobilization in a sling after an elbow fracture not only may cause elbow and wrist tightness; it may also cause loss of ROM in your shoulder. Working on improving your shoulder ROM is an important part of your elbow fracture rehab.

Your shoulder ROM program should follow a graded progression--gentle and passive exercises first followed by active exercises. A typical ROM progression for your shoulder after an elbow fracture is:

Don't forget the role that your shoulder blade plays in your shoulder movement, and be sure to include scapular stabilization exercises into your rehab program for your broken elbow.

Wrist and Hand Strengthening Exercises

Image of elderly woman receiving hand physical therapy with putty.
Your physical therapist can teach you hand and finger exercises that you can do with therapy putty. Pamela Moore/Getty Images

Many of the muscles that control the movements and position of your hand originate at your elbow, and regain normal strength in these muscles should be a part of your elbow fracture rehab. Your physical therapist may prescribe wrist and hand strengthening exercise for you to do.

You can strengthen your wrist by performing dumbbell exercises through wrist flexion, extension, pronation, and supination. Be sure to use a weight that you can manage, and perform 10 to 15 repetitions of each exercise.

To strengthen your hand and finger muscles, you can use therapy putty. Your physical therapist may be able to give you some for your exercises. Gripping, molding, and kneading the putty will help improve the strength of your hand.

You may also use a handgrip exercise device like a DigiFlex. You can use the DigiFlex to help strengthen your hand, fingers, and thumb muscles.

If you do not have access to putty of handgrip devices, you can still work on improving your strength with the towel handgrip exercise. Simply roll up a small towel, and grip it lightly, holding your grip tight for a few seconds. Release your grip on the towel, and then repeat for 10 to 15 repetitions.

Biceps and Triceps Strengthening

Your biceps muscle helps to bend your elbow and turn your hand over so your palm is facing up. You can strengthen your biceps muscle by performing elbow exercises with a resistance band or by using a small dumbbell. Start with a light weight that you can manage, and perform 10 to 15 repetitions of biceps curls.

Your triceps muscle travels down the back of your upper arm and helps to straighten your elbow. You can use a resistance band to strengthen your triceps, or a dumbbell can be used by performing tricep kickbacks or supine tricep presses. Perform 10 to 15 reps of tricep strengthening exercises.

Rotator Cuff Strengthening

Painful shoulder conditions may need physical therapy to help return to normal.
Physical Therapy can help if you have shoulder pain. Stockbyte/Getty Images

Your shoulder muscles help to control the position of your arm when you are raising it up. It is likely that your rotator cuff muscles became a bit weak during a period of immobilization while your broken elbow was healing. Working to strengthen your rotator cuff muscles may be an important component of your elbow fracture exercise program.

One of the simplest ways to strengthen your rotator cuff muscles is by using a resistance band. Simply attach the band to your closet doorknob, and perform exercises for shoulder internal and external rotation, flexion, extension, and abduction.

Perform 10 to 15 repetitions each of shoulder rotator cuff strengthening.

Sport Specific and Return to Function Exercise

Your main goal of your elbow fracture rehab program is to return to normal activity and function. This may require you to perform work or sport specific exercises and activities. Your physical therapist can help you perform these exercises.

Upper extremity plyometric exercises can help you prepare for tolerating the stressors that come with work and athletics. Performing the Thrower's 10 exercise program may be necessary if you are a baseball player.

After an elbow fracture, your main goals are to improve the range of motion and strength in your entire upper extremity so you can return to your previous level of function and activity. Your physical therapist can guide you during your elbow rehab to ensure that you are doing the correct exercises for your condition.

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