I have worked and worked my elbow and still can't bend it all the way. This happened after I dislocated my elbow during a bad fall. The emergency room doctor popped it back in so I thought it would be okay. Can anything else be done?

Loss of motion in a joint after an injury is called a joint contracture. Sometimes the person can't bend or flex it all the way. In other cases, the elbow won't straighten or extend fully. Motion may be limited in both directions at the same time. It may be difficult to turn the palm all the way up toward the ceiling or down toward the floor.

Anytime joint motion is stiff or limited, a medical exam is advised. The doctor will perform an exam and possibly order X-rays. Damage to the joint capsule or surrounding soft tissues may be the problem. Sometimes the joint isn't completely reduced (relocated). A second manipulation may be needed.

If the joint is intact and there is a contracture, then you may need physical therapy. The therapist uses various ways of increasing motion. Splints may be helpful as well. These may be worn at night or day and night if needed.

If motion is not restored after a reasonable length of time, then surgery may be needed. The type of surgery depends on the type of motion limitation and the cause of the problem.

Reference: 

Mitchell T. Keschner, MD, and Nader Paksima, DO, MPH. The Stiff Elbow. In Bulletin of the NYU Hospital for Joint Diseases. Supplement 2, 2007. Vol. 65. Pp. 24-28.

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