Why Won’t My Elbow Straighten?

elbow stretching for gradual straightening
On one occasion while playing basketball, I was knocked off of my feet, and I landed onto my left elbow. Thankfully, my elbow was not fractured, although it did bruise up substantially.

In addition to some swelling, I soon noticed an inability to straighten out my elbow. For many months my elbow remained unable to completely straighten. I ended up consulting an orthopedist and a physical therapist, and their advice was invaluable…

Elbows respond to slow and gentle stretching.

Elbow fractures, elbow surgeries, and general elbow trauma all can have the unfortunate consequence of “contractures,” or lags in range of motion. I have found that the soft tissue of the elbow does not respond favorably to aggressive stretching. Aggressive pushing of the ranges of motion will actually cause the elbow to become more inflamed, and in many cases, the contracture will worsen.

The soft tissue of the elbow tends to agree with a slower, gentler stretch imposed over a longer period of time. If you cannot fully straighten your elbow, try this simple exercise. (See photo above)

1. Lie on the floor “face upwards” and place a pillow under your forearm so that your arm may rest with a slight amount of stretch. Make sure that your shoulder does not lift off the floor as you lie in this position. Adjust the amount of support under the forearm if necessary.

2. Allow your elbow to rest into extension over ten to fifteen minutes. Gently press your forearm down into the pillow for ten seconds every minute by contracting your triceps muscles.

3. As your range of motion improves, use less of a support under your forearm.

4. The level of stretch imposed on your shoulder during this exercise should be a “one or two” out of a scale of ten. If you are encountering too much stretch, adjust the pillow under your forearm to allow a more comfortable amount of flexion.

Discussion

  1. Kerri says

    Last month I took a nasty fall and injured my left elbow. X-Rays showed I didn’t break anything, but suffered a severe sprain. For the first couple weeks I kept the elbow elevated when sitting/laying down and in a sling as much as possible during the day, using it only when necessary.
    I still can’t extend the arm completely, which I don’t find surprising, what is disconcerting is that the elbow seems to “lock up” and then “crack” when I move my arm a certain way. The sensation is not pleasant, to say the least. This is also something I’ve never had my elbow do before. My wrists and ankles, yes, but never my elbow.
    I do have a follow up visit with my pcp, but unfortunately not until next week. In your opinion, should I be concerned about this “locking and cracking”? I have no qualms about pushing for an earlier visit with my doctor if this is something that should get immediate attention.
    Thank you.

      • Jenny says

        I was doing a backflip at tumbling and I dislocated my able I also fractured it. My arm has not been able to straighten my arm for a while and it’s not that comfortable. I can’t tumble nor cheer ( I hold the girls up) I have not been able to straighten my arm since January. If I do my therapy everyday how long do you think it will take to get my arm back to normal. Since I have been doing therapy for quite a while now I’ve been doing push ups and cartwheels and stretching it with a band that my therapist have me and I’ve been using weights.

          • peter says

            You may never regain ROM. I broke my radial head off and dislocated it in 2009. I had a radial head replacement/implant and I have never fully regained strength or stability. Stability is my biggest issue. I can almost achieve full extension. Supination and pronation are extremely inhibited as well. In regards to strength I have only a fraction of what I used to. I find it hard and painful to curl 25lbs. I can curl 65lbs easily with my other arm.

        • says

          Jenny it may take a while, it depends on how severe the fracture was and exactly where the fracture occurred in the elbow area.

          If you are not getting range back, I would ask the doctor about getting a “static progressive” brace for the elbow. This type of brace places a slow stretch on the joint to assist in straightening it out.

      • Janet says

        I fractured my radial head (elbow) at cheerleading during February break its been 4 months now and I can fully straighten it the only thing is pain comes along with it and my elbow locks up which really hurts but when it cracks it feels good and there’s no pain. I’m cleared to do cheerleading again but I’m worried it may lock up at cheer when I’m tumbling or something and might get worse what should I do?

        • says

          Make sure that the strength of all the muscles that cross the elbow joint are ideal (biceps, triceps, wrist flexors, wrist extensors, brachialis, brachioradialis are the main ones).

          The locking is a bit of a concern, I would have a PT take a final look at it and see how the joint feels. There might be some type of stretch that you can do to lessen the locking, but it would take a trained eye to make that assessment.

      • Adam Chance says

        I WORK ON TOW BOATS IN LOUISIANA AND ABOUT 4 months ago I injured my left elbow. I was using a cheaterpipe,which is a leverage tool,to tighten a barge winch. I was pulling down on it then as it gets about waste high I reposition to a pushing down stance. When pushing down with lots of force,the winch gave slack cause my arms to stretch out really fast. As that happened my left elbow popped really loud. Well I went to sleep for about six hrs and I couldn’t extend it all the way no matter how hard I tried,then finally it popped again with great pain and straightened out to full extention. Went to my company doc,bone n joint of baton rouge,and all he said was it is inflamed arthritis. But it still locks up n pops with pain trying to extend it. Please help,thanks. Adam Chance

        • says

          It sounds like you may have sprained the ligaments around the elbow in addition to inflaming it. It may be worth your time to see an orthopedist who specializes in elbows to get an x-ray and another impression. You should file this injury as a worker’s comp injury if you have not already.

          The problem with this is that it may be difficult for you to give adequate rest to the elbow given what you do for a living. You might be able to get some PT for the elbow through worker’s comp????

  2. Dan says

    I had arthritis since I was 13 and I’m 22 now , but over the last year or so my arms Won’t fully straighten, and it’s very painful , while in the gym cycling ext,.. And I feel the urge to holding heavy weights to try straighten them but I think that makes its worse . What could u recommend please . Daniel

  3. Michael says

    A couple of weeks ago,I was playing basketball outside with my friend,he “crossed” me,and as I was running after him,I accidentally tripped on his foot and landed on my left elbow,I went to hospital immediately,I had an X-Ray,I have a cast. I’ve had the cast on for several weeks,last Monday I had an appointment.They took off my cast,unfortunately,I wasn’t able to straighten my arm fully,so they put a cast back on for a week or so.I’m quite scared since I am not sure if it’s serious,my elbow didn’t hurt when doc was touching it,but I couldn’t straighten my arm.

    • says

      Keeping the elbow in a bent position such as when in a cast is a necessary evil. The elbow needs to heal, but the result is often a stiff elbow that won’t straighten. You have to let the bone heal first, worry about the movement in the elbow once you are cleared to do so. You may want to see a PT after you are out of the cast.

  4. Kevin says

    Hi, i had accident 4years ago. I slipped on the floor and i used my right arm as a support. The result was that my elbow got dislocated. There was no blood and fractures. It was just swelling really bad. The next day the doctor operated on my elbow. I forgot what was the term of operation, but it did not invloved any open surgeries. They just put me into sleep then they proceed with putting my elbow back to where it was. One week later, they removed my half cast. Then i proceed to pt(physical therapy). It was a 10 session pt. But i stopped on the 9th coz of school. Now 4yrs later. I have a full function of my arm. The only downside is that i can’t fully straighten my right arm. It seems that something is blocking my full rotation of my elbow from the inside. Should i go to a pt or is there a way for me to do some pt on my own? I just wantedthe full mobility of my right arm again.

    • says

      Kevin there is probably some scare tissue in the joint. I would see the doc and possibly get a prescription for some PT. The doc might also consider prescribing you a “static progressive” brace that will help stretch your elbow slowly and gently into the range that is stuck. Ask the doc about that type of brace.

  5. mienard sandigan says

    I CANT STRAIGHTEN MY RIGHT ARM . IT STARTED WAY BACK 2010. PRIOR TO THAT, MY RIGHT MIDDLE FINGER GOT INJURED IN WHITEWATER RAFTING LAST 2009. I DON’T REMEMBER ANY INJURY ON MY ARM ESPECIALLY THE ELBOW WHICH IS VERY PAINFUL AS IN ELECTRICAL PAIN . IT WAS JUST THE MIDDLE FINGER THAT GOT INJURED. ARE THEY CONNECTED? PLEASE ENLIGHTEN ME. THANKS

    • says

      Mienard from what you describe I do not think that the middle finger injury from rafting is directly related to the elbow, but I do think that it would be worth your time to see an orthopedist. Electric pain may signify that one of the nerves might be inflamed.

  6. stephon says

    I’ve been having this problem for five years now I used to lift heavy weights with friends and now my elbow don’t go straight and I ha e pain here and there on both elbows. Do I need surgery ? What can I do ?

  7. Javier says

    I was crossing the road and tripped on a wire and landed on my left elbow. I went to the doctor and x-ray show that it wasnt broken and got a cast. The doc took it of but i can’t straighten my arm. What could be wrong?

    • says

      If the elbow was not broken, why did the doc put a cast on it? When the elbow is held in a bent position for a long time, the tissue in the elbow joint tends to accommodate to that position. The elbow will probably need to be stretched out. I would see if you can see a PT, ask your doc.

  8. Rondale Walker says

    I had surgery back in 2013 which was a left ulnar shaving on my forearm. While I was in the cast I slipped and hit my elbow (my arm was in L format). There was never any pain or anything just a small pop each time I extended. At first I was able to fully extend but each day the pop got louder and louder. Now there is constant grinding, and popping sometimes. Mainly the pain is only when I try to extend it or bang it on something. There is some swelling and everything but I can not find a doctor to help me with my Issue. I can barely lift anything and trying to work out is a gringing party. Ive seen 3 doctors and each said nerve damage is the reason I cant fully extend my arm but I am having no tingling nor sign of nerve damage.

    • says

      Ugh. That sounds complicated Rondale. I think you need to find the right doctor to figure out exactly what is going on. You probably want to see an orthopedist who specializes in elbows. Ask around. You could try calling a physical therapy clinic and asking who they know.

  9. Sue Martin says

    I broke the radial head bone in my elbow 4 months ago. I have been having physio and I can now touch my shoulder but the physio has now told me that he can no longer help as he says there is a ‘bony block’ which means he can only get it to straighten to 35 degrees. He even asked if there is an occasion when I do need to fully straighten my arm! Can you suggest any exercises to extend the amount I can straighten it please as I do not want to have a visibly bent arm for the rest of my life.

    • says

      Sue the next thing that I would try with you would be to get a static progressive brace to stretch the elbow into a more straightened position. The company that we use is called “JAS”, and you would need a prescription from your doc to get one.

      If you get no progress with a stretch brace over a few months I would then agree with the PT. The next step after that would be to ask the orthopedist if there is any other thing that he can do.

  10. Garrett says

    Hi I recently jacked up my elbow from a bad fall and was originally in a splint for 3 weeks with a plate over my elbow and a couple screws. The plate somehow slipped off my elbow the first time around due to my tricep muscle and then they re did the surgery using a cast this time. It has been 3 more weeks since the last surgery and my cast was removed today. My elbow barely bends and is in pain and the doctor said there isn’t much he can do, I can’t straighten it and can’t bend it very much. Any advice to help with this I am wearing a brace that allows me to bend my arm a bit for 1 more month. Is it too early to start physical therapy?

    • says

      Start with gentle active range of motion of the elbow if the doctor okays that. I would also bother the doctor about when you can start some physical therapy. The fracture needs to be mostly healed before you can range it more aggressively.

  11. Valerie says

    I disclocated my elbow on 1-14-15. My elbow was put back in place at the hospital. On the 19th I saw to the PT. I was put into an brace. I saw my PT for fourteen visit. I travel for the summers my last visit was 4-17-15. I have been doing the exercises. But my elbow will not straighten out. I was told when I come back from traveling that I will need to have the capsule in the elbow broke open and then more PT. Will this work. I am this having mild pain.

    • says

      Elbow dislocations can be tricky like that Valerie. You might want to ask the doctor about getting a “static progressive” brace for the elbow. That should help with straightening it out, although it does take a significant amount of time and patience on your part.

      • Valerie says

        My brace has been adjusted as far as it can. I had been locking the brace out straight at 100% at night but I am having too
        much pain. I also have fibromyalgia that is causing problems now. My stress level is very high. Will not be back to see PT until Oct.

  12. Neil H says

    I fractured my radial head over two weeks ago from a snowboard incident coming off a high jump. I had an xray at hospital and the results showed a fracture ( minimally displaced). The doctor at hospital told me to try and move my arm slowly each day to create movement in the elbow which I have done daily. The problem I have now is that my arm wont fully straighten, I have tried to stretch it each day by keeping arm elevated on edge of sofa with a small weight in my hand to held gravity straighten it. Nothing seems to be working and arm is not straightening, if anything, my arm feels like its getting worse with pain. When i breath heavily I can feel a shooting pain in my elbow. Is it normal for my elbow to not straighten post 17 days after incident and have sharp pains running through elbow, any advice would be great thanks?

    • says

      Neil I think that holding the weight off the couch is a bit aggressive for this early on. I would try lying on the floor and placing a towel under your forearm so that it just barely feels like a stretch. No weight in the hand. A gentler stretch imparted over a longer period of time may work better.

      In terms of mechanics, the head of the radius bone needs to translate a little bit forward in order for the elbow to fully straighten. You might want to see a PT and have the joint stretched and moved a bit. You would need a script from your doctor.

  13. adanna adenekan says

    hi. my son fell on his elbow and had a dislocation and fracture. xray shows fravture healed and elbow is released frm the cast. we go for pt but the hand has not straightened fully
    how long is it going to take to straighten
    he is sevem years old

    • says

      Children are usually quite resilient. If the hand does not straighten fully, the PT can probably evaluate it and start your child with some stretching. I think that the sooner your son goes to PT, the better.

  14. Steph says

    A few years ago, I slip at our kids school and shattered my left elbow having immediate surgery with pins, rods and screws. Went through PT and everything. A year or so later, I had the hardware removed and yet I still can not straighten my arm all the way. I used to be very active as I used to be in the Marines and can no longer to pushups, pull ups or really anuthing that puts weight or pressure on my left arm. Will this ever change?? I want to do mud runs, pt ( Marine style) and so forth. If I did all of that, could I fracture it again?

    • says

      Sorry to hear about that Steph. You could try using a “static progressive” brace to try to straighten it out. You would need a script from a doc, and a ton of patience on your part because it would likely take months to see a result.

      I don’t see why you shouldn’t be able to strengthen your arm in the mean time. It would just mean starting with light weights and cables etc.. I do not think that you would necessarily be a fracture risk from doing these types of things, but once again, it is always a good idea to ask the treating doc about it.

  15. Jennifer says

    I adopted a five year old who has right sided cerebral palsy. She holds her right arm up all the time and rarely straightens her elbow. Her fingers are also bent oddly. We went to a clinic and had a brace made but it does not even go to the elbow. I don’t see how it is helping. We have been to a orthopedist, physical therapy and Shriners and no one is helping me with this. I am so worried that her arm is going to become contractured. What should I do? I am in SC. I was looking to see if I could just purchase something online but can’t find what I’m looking for.

    • says

      Jennifer this type of elbow contracture is a bit different than a typical orthopedic contracture. CP children usually have hyper-tonicity in certain muscles which pull joints into flexion.

      The treatments are somewhat different than what I deal with on a day to day basis. I have spoken to pediatric PT’s who have said that a drug called “baclofen” helps to ease some of the tonicity. In many cases a small baclofen pump is implanted in the CP patient that provides a constant dosage that helps to reduce tonicity. I have also heard of botox being used.

      I would be very careful about trying to find a brace yourself. You are probably better off finding the right PT to help you with this. Call around your area and see if you can find someone who can either make you an elbow brace or tell you what is the best pre-fabricated brace to buy. I would also find a doc who deals specifically with CP and ask about baclofen or botox injections.

      I apologize that this is not my area of expertise! You could also try looking in the “Certified Hand Therapist” database on the internet. There should be a hand therapist who works with pediatric populations in your general area.

  16. Raul Menendez says

    My right arm was fractured in 2009 I’m thirteen at the time I was 7 it causes me mild pain I have not seen a pt in a while and my arm doesn’t have full range it bothers me a ton and I can’t see an ortho until August I enjoy playing football but it gets in the way any suggestions?

    • says

      Something that has been going on for that long needs a current x-ray Raul. You might be able to get a “static progressive” brace to help stretch the elbow into a more straight position. See a doc and see what is going on with the joint.

  17. Tyler says

    18 year old college pitcher. For the past two years, elbow will not straighten. There is no pain in the elbow but have lost velocity.

    • says

      Get an x-ray Tyler. Probably not a boney problem but I would get one just to be safe.

      My guess is that this is a repetitive stress / overuse thing that is causing inflammation in the joint. It might be worthwhile to consult with a PT as well.

  18. Bridget says

    I DISLOCATED MY ELBOW IN MAY 6 ,THIS YEAR.THE DR.RELOCATED IT.
    BUT STILL CAN’T REACH MY ARM ALL THE WAY OUT.WILL I EVER BE ABLE TO REACH IT OUT.
    I’M RIGHT HANDED AND I STILL CAN’T PULL A FORK UP TO EAT WITH MY RIGHT ARM.THANKS

  19. akshith reddy says

    Hi this is Akshith. I was met with accident in last Nov at that time my right hand was injured. Doc said my radial head at elbow was fractured so he treated me with a normal backslab therapy. But the fracture didn’t set at all. My bone was in same condition as when I saw at the time of accident in x ray. But because of the backslab therapy my hand was not totally straighten. Because of financial problem I didn’t go for surgery. After few months recently I went to consult another doc he saw my x ray report and told me that surgery is not required,you can easily can lift and you can go for even gym also. I asked him is there possibility to straighten he told me even after surgery your hand won’t get straighten. Am confused about this whether to go for surgery or not. Please tell me is there possibility to straighten up my hand.

    • says

      It may be possible to straighten out the hand over time, but you need to work every day on stretching in to the motion that is restricted. If you can get one appointment with a physical therapist it may be worth your time to get some advice in terms of how to stretch the hand.

  20. Monique says

    My daughter is 7 years old. She broke her left arm (non dominate arm) right above the elbow. She needed surgery that included putting in 3 pins and she wore a long arm cast for 4 weeks. Her pins and cast were removed 6 days ago. Now she is like the tin man walking around with what I call her “dead arm.” Because it’s her non-dominate arm she just functions in life without using it and lets it hang in the same position as the cast. She won’t bend it or straighten it. The pediatric ortho said if her range of motion is not back in 6 weeks to come see him. 6 weeks??? We got no PT prescription and no exercise sheet because he thinks kids tend to just regain mobility on their own through daily activity. But my 7 yr old literally acts like her arm is not there. The Dr. told us swimming is good PT. We put her in a pool and she swims using her feet and good arm but won’t use the bad arm. So even if swimming is good PT, I don’t even know what to do with her in the pool. I thought the water would relieve tension and tried to get her to bend and straighten her arm under water. Nope, she won’t. She says she can’t because it hurts too bad, What can we do???? I don’t want to physically move it for her because 1. I know it will hurt and 2. I don’t want to make it worse. Please help. Every forum I read kids just snap back, but not mine. I’m afraid she will never regain range of motion let alone strength. By day 6 shouldn’t things have improved or am I overreacting? Oh and she will make a thumbs up and thumbs down motion, she will move her wrist from side to side and up and down, she will squeeze a stress ball, and she will unscrew a jar top so she has forearm strength, finger strength and wrist mobility, but she will not move that elbow.

    • says

      Children usually do bounce back after these types of things….I know that you already heard that but it is largely true.

      I am guessing that the x-rays at this point look good? If so, you really have very little chance of doing any damage to the joint with moving the elbow around. I would encourage her, bit by bit, to use the arm functionally. I would try to find some fun ways to have her recruit the arm, maybe board games? Dinner time might be a good time to bribe her into using the arm with utensils. I have found that if you physically warm up the arm with heat or massage it makes it much less painful to move.

      If you are getting nowhere in a week or so, I would bother the doc for a PT script. Even one visit of PT (from a pediatric PT) will give you some good ideas. My nephew fractured his ankle and he refused to put weight on it once he was cleared for a while. He eventually came around.

      • Monique says

        Thank you for such a prompt response. Any tips on how we can use the pool to our advantage for PT purposes?

          • Monique says

            We are doing rehab now since the Dr. was not happy with her lack of progress. He said she is presenting like an adult would, and that usually children don’t need PT and work back to normal on their own. So wish us luck there, but I have a new issue: That once broken arm has excessive hair growing. Her other arm is bare. She’s 7 but her once broken arm looks like the arm of a 40 yr old man. Is this normal? Does hair growth go back to normal (i.e., she’s 7 so she should have none) or is she stuck with it forever? It’s been 4 weeks since the case came off and she looks 1/2 ape.

          • says

            The hair growth thing happens a lot when arms and wrists are casted. I wouldn’t worry too much about it unless if the arm becomes swollen or super-sensitive to touch.

            Make sure that the doc knows about this as well.

  21. Anne says

    Hi Dan,

    I’m due to see an othopedic specialist soon but I wanted to get another general opinion before I go in.

    Around the age of 15 I fell on the stairs, an accident from which I received a hair-line fracture around my elbow. Everything seemed to have healed well but I started noticing around the age of 17/18 that I had redeuced mobility in both my elbows, which I found strange as there was no injury to my left elbow as far as I can remember. It never bothered me so when I saw my GP about it (at around the age of 20/21) they deemed it not that urgent and unnecessary to proceed. Since then, my elbows are in pain every winter and I recently had a flare up of pain in my right elbow only.

    My question is: is there an explanation as to why I have reduced mobility in both my elbows and not just my right one?

    (NB: I experience the locking and cracking too, as described by another commenter)

    Thanks in advance.

    • says

      The elbow loss of range on both sides is not consistent with the fall that you had in your teens. Something else is going on.

      Were / are you a big time athlete? Some people will develop changes in the range of motion of the elbow because of repetitive stress. I have seen what you are describing happen to weight lifters.

      Some joints that are “overused” can be reactive to changes in weather or barometric pressure. Especially joints that have a teenie bit of arthritic changes from overuse. That could explain the cold weather thing with you.

      If the orthopedist consult gets you nowhere, I would see a rheumatologist. All in all though, you are certainly not doomed. Don’t freak out about it.

      • Anne says

        Thanks for your reply – I’ll certainly keep the rheumatologist in mind!

        Aside from the regular gym class at school and weekly after school activity (basketball) I never did any heavy sports. In fact, I had to stop all strenuous exercise for 2 years because of my overactive thyroid that elevated my heart rate way too high.

        I feel as though my range of motion over time is becoming less very slowly. Whilst it doesn’t bother me so much right now aside from the occasional flare up of pain, I’d rather not end up like a T-rex with my hands close to my chest in 10 years time :-)

  22. Gurn says

    Hi Dan.

    In February I had a motorcycle accident where I had sprained my elbow and I had been put in a sling for around 2 weeks. It has been 4 months now and my elbow still hasn’t healed fully. Granted I did start working earlier than what the doctor recommended but it was necessary. Every time I fully extend my elbow, I feel this pain on my elbow. Or when I fully extend the elbow and then rotate my wrist, there is some pain and seldom cracking noises. I believe its the Ulnar Collateral Ligament, and when I gently massage this ligament, there is some pain there. I was just wondering if you have some suggestions to speed up the recovery? I can put weight on the elbow, I can do pushups and even some tricep exercises but others I have difficulty with. I am also double-jointed, do not really know if that slows down the recovery time.

    Thanks in advance

    • says

      Gurn I would see a PT to get an idea of what structures are involved. Certain things might need to be stretched, and certain muscles might need to be strengthened. You may need to take a step back and start with some very basic strengthening before you do the higher level stuff. Push-ups at this point might actually be straining you out a bit. Get it checked out.

  23. David Mark says

    Hi there
    I find your site very informative. About five weeks ago I had a cycle accident, in which I was going about 25mph, and the moped in front screeched to a halt, and as I was riding a road bike could not break as fast. I bounced straight into it and because I was wearing cleats, could not use my feet for support, and so I landed on my right elbow. It was slightly painful, but I had reasonable movement, so I brushed it off and continued with my usual activities, including playing tennis.
    I found bending my elbow and straightening it quite painful. After about three weeks I saw my GP who didn’t offer much support. I went to a sports physical therapist, who game me some exercises, and suggested getting an x-ray, she also said playing tennis is ok, as long as I don’t pronate. The hospital found no fractures.

    With the exercises, I found I can bend and straighten my arm with very little pain, but pronating my arm when straightened is painful and a pain shoots up my arm. It is also quite painful to carry heavy weights with my are straightened.

    I would appreciate any advice you could offer.

    Best wishes

    David

    • says

      It sounds like you did some damage to the head of the radius bone. It will likely take a few more months for that pain to subside. There is of course the chance that you fractured it. Only an x-ray would confirm this.

      In the mean time I would not do any heavy weights. I do agree with the PT that you saw, I would probably see a doctor to get the x-ray.

  24. Laura says

    Hi,

    11 months ago I dislocated my elbow and broke the radial head in my right arm. To make a long story short, I’ve recovered and completed my course of PT. I have had a nice recovery considering the seriousness of my injury. I can touch my right shoulder (though it takes a bit more ‘push’ to get there), I can turn my right hand palm up, and my extension is pretty good. I wish I could have a complete/full recovery to 100% of where I was, but I also realize that is not possible with the injury I sustained.

    This was one of the exercises I have become very familiar with. One thing I did notice was when I got to a certain point in my recovery, this exercise started to irritate my ulnar nerve but didn’t seem to improve my extension. I was getting tingling and numbness in my hand after this stretch. Since I need my hands for my job, I didn’t want to keep pushing so I stopped using this stretch. I’ve now got most of my extension back, and my PT said it was probably as good as it can possibly get. I’m guessing that whatever mess I made of my elbow there is something structurally different in it that will keep it from full extension.

    I’m wondering if you counsel people to stop using this stretch when there is evidence of nerve irritation, such as in my case? Can someone cause permanent nerve damage in cases like mine where one just kind of ‘hits a wall’ with recovery?

    Thanks!

    Laura

    • says

      If the fingers are going numb then I would say that something needs to be adjusted, and I would direct the patient to stop the exercise for the time being.

      It is possible that either scar tissue, or in some cases metal (if surgery was used to stabilize a fracture), could be placing stress on the ulnar nerve. If you tried to push through it you might make the ulnar nerve irritation worse. See the doc about it.

      • Laura says

        Hi,

        Thanks for the quick reply. I was extremely fortunate in that, after 4 surgeons reviewed my MRI, they opted to let me heal without surgery. No complaints about the decision, especially since surgery comes with its own set of risks.

        Its interesting that scar tissue can cause this. Under normal daily use I don’t have any numbness or problems with the nerve. I only experienced this when I was performing this exercise regularly, after swelling had subsided and I was nearing the end of what PT could do for me.

        Thanks for the information!

        Laura

  25. Becky says

    I’m a big woman I tripped an feel on left elbow. My whole left arm was numb to fingers. A week later still am having pain in elbow and numbness most of the pain goes from elbow to hand. I tried to pick up my granddaughter I had so much pain in my left elbow I couldn’t pick her up. Can’t extend arts straight it stop if I go to far

  26. Michael says

    Hello:

    5 months ago I fractured my humerus pretty badly and required surgery with a plate and 6 screws to repair it. I have been in physical therapy since week 9 and have improved my active bending of my elbow to 120 degrees from 85 degrees when I started. My concern is that my therapist is satisfied with the 120 degrees and said that I should be able to function in life going forward with 120 degrees of motion available to me. She also said that at 5 months out from the surgery, I have seen all the improvement in ROM I am going to see since “you cannot expect anymore improvement in ROM after 5 months have elapsed”. This is a bit disconcerting to me since my orthopedic surgeon said to me that my elbow was not injured and I should expect my elbow to regain full function. So, I would like to regain 140 degrees of flexion just as I had prior to the surgery. My question to you is A) is she correct in saying that after 5 months no more gains in ROM are possible? and B) should I switch therapists and continue to work at it on my own? I do slow gentle stretching 4 times a day currently. Thanks in advance for your response!

    • says

      Michael you may be able to chase some more range out of that elbow, but the further away you get from surgery harder that becomes. I am not so sure that five months is a “rigid” timeframe for all improvements though.

      I would definitely continue to work on the range on your own. A slow, easier stretch over a longer period of time tends to agree with the elbow a bit better than cramming your elbow into flexion. If you feel that your PT is not a good fit, by all means get another one. You might want to run the idea of “binding” your elbow with some ace wrap to give it a slow stretch, the PT would need to show you how to do it.

  27. Tyrone says

    I believe I slept on my left arm or elbow an woke to my arm not straighten an its scary a little I don’t know what to do

  28. Michael says

    Thank you so much for your informative reply my friend. I’m thinking I will definitely switch to a new P.T. and continue working on my active bending of my elbow ROM on my own. I hate to bother you with another question as I know your a busy man running a P.T. facility. However, I can’t help but wonder if A) 4 elbow stretching sessions a day is too much or not enough. And B) at what point am I just banging my head against the wall trying to obtain more elbow flexion ROM, 6 months, a year, etc. etc. Thanks in advance for your reply!

      • Michael says

        Thank you again for your reply my friend. I will march forward for the next couple of months and see what I can do. I will publish my new numbers on your wonderful sight as I progress. Thanks again my friend!

  29. Mathew Tryon says

    Hey there, I found your site to be quite informative, and very helpful.. I was riding my bike down hill and fell off, and fractured my arm(this is the 2nd time I broke this arm, it had 2 fractures, I was able to fully extend it just fine, but now I can get close to fully extending it, but not quite, the fractures has almost healed, but hasn’t yet, no pain when straightening it as far as I can or turning my wrists.. What are your recommendations? It has minimal displacement. What are your ideas? Is it possible to fully straighten it even with minimal displacement? Should I still ice it? I don’t lift with this arm at all, as per doctors orders.. Just trying to think of ways to straighten it fully, unsure if the fact that it’s not fully healed yet, might have an impact.. I still wear the sling sometimes, should I not wear it and just use it regularly(my concern with this is, I might make it more displaced)? But I don’t want it locked more..

    • says

      Get the okay from the doctor before you get more aggressive about pushing the range of motion. It usually takes six weeks for the fracture to totally heal, so keep that in mind as you work the elbow.

      I would say that (with the doctor’s permission) it would be okay to work the elbow through active ranges, meaning that you are moving the elbow through flexion and extension WITHOUT putting any overpressure on the elbow with your good hand. You could also lie on the floor and allow the elbow to relax into extension for increasing amounts of time. (I believe we talk about that in our blog article.) Make sure that you run these ideas by your doctor and your therapist. Elbow fractures can be dealt with differently depending on exactly where the fracture is, so I cannot give you a fully accurate course of treatment over the internet!

  30. says

    my son broke his elbow and dislocated a bone right next to it a week ago his cast was taken off but right now he cannot extend his arm at full is it normal and how long would it take for him to extend it all the way?

    • says

      Children usually bounce back quickly. I would guess that if he is working on the range of motion it might take several weeks, but it does depend on the type of fracture and its severity.

      I would get a PT consult to make sure that you are doing the right things in terms of rehab.

  31. Nikhil Vashisth says

    Hi doc,
    My wife fell down in an accident while riding on a bike and fractured her right elbow. This happened back in Feb’15. Post that she had to go for her surgery for elbow dislocation and she needed 3 screws to fix it. She had a plaster for 3 weeks post that she started physiotherapy for her hand mobilisation. It’s been now more than 5 months but her hand is still not straightened. She does exercise in morning and in physiotherapy and is able to achieve passive range of 100% but during day time her hand automatically comes to a lock up position. Not sure how will she achieve 100% movement and straight elbow. Please help with your suggestions..

    • says

      It might be useful to have a resting splint made for the hand that serves to keep it in a straight / neutral position. I have found that this is very helpful to maintain the gains that are made during the day. Talk to a PT about it who specializes in hand therapy and splint making.

      In terms of the elbow, there are stretching exercises that can be done. This would also require talking to a PT. The exercise that we outline in the blog article is one of a few things that we typically recommend to patients.

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