Elbow Injuries in Sports
Injuries are an integral part of all sports activity. Overuse and improper use of the joints are the main causes of injuries in sportsmen.
Sports injuries are basically of two types, macro or micro-traumas. Macro traumas are one-time events such as broken bones, concussions or head or neck injuries.
Micro traumas are often small, unnoticed injuries that occur repeatedly. These small injuries add up and can lead to pain and even disability in severe cases. Stress fractures and the related symptoms that appear when the joint is overused are a common example of micro traumas.
The Elbow Structure
It helps to understand the basic structure of the elbow before looking into the various sports-related injuries.
The elbow is a hinge joint that helps connect the three bones of the arm, including the radius and ulna of the forearm and humerus of the upper arm. The bones are held together by ligaments.
The primary ligament is the medial collateral ligament (MCL) on the inside of the elbow and the lateral collateral ligament (LCL) on the outside. Several muscles that surround the joint are responsible for the movement.
An elbow injury can assume serious proportions as the damage to a nerve at the elbow joint can lead to permanent problems with the muscles of the forearm, wrist, hand and fingers.
In fact, it is from fractures and dislocations that swelling, lack of movement and bone crookedness occurs.
Sports that involve a maximum chance of injuries to the elbow include tennis, racquetball, squash, golf and weight-lifting.
Common Conditions and Causes
Elbow injuries in sports manifest themselves in various forms, varying according to the location and cause of injury.
Here we list the main forms of elbow injuries and pain associated with them.
This is one of the most serious and common acute elbow injuries. An elbow dislocation typically results from falling on an outstretched or extended arm, often as a result of a contact sport or fall from a height.
Fractures of the elbow most commonly occur due to a fall on an outstretched arm. It typically causes an acute pain, swelling, bruising and potential joint deformity. An elbow fracture is often associated with elbow dislocation and will normally be treated with surgery.
This condition is typically characterized by an irritated muscle in the forearm that attaches to the bony knob on the outside of the elbow. Tennis Elbow is one of the most common forms of overuse injury.
This condition occurs in athletes who power snap their wrists downward and inward as a part of the motion required in their sport. The tendon from the flexor muscles becomes inflamed. The most commonly affected sportspersons include baseball pitchers, golfers, rowers and tennis players.
Little League Elbow
In this condition, damage occurs to both the growth plates at the ends of the forearm bones in the joint. This type of injury is usually caused by throwing motions.
The throwing motion in sports causes compression of the outside structures of the elbow and tension on the inside structures. With time, this compression leads to bone spurs and chips and the tension further leads to stretching of ligaments. Such injuries are very common amongst baseball players and other throwing athletes.
Biceps Tendon Rupture
Rupture of the biceps tendon generally occurs in the older athletes. Sharp pain and the sensation of muscle tearing often occur after repetitive lifting or acute injury. The biceps tendon rupture is generally characterized by a sudden contraction of the biceps muscle.
Ulnar Nerve Entrapment
The ‘funny bone’ involved in this type of an injury is actually an exposed area where the ulnar nerve passes around the elbow. This nerve can actually become chronically inflamed and entrapped in its tight passage around the elbow, causing immense pain.
Tendonitis that occurs on the side of the elbow is known as the golfer’s elbow. These primarily include the inside tendons that are injured when the golf club makes contact with the ball or more commonly with the club that makes accidental contact with the ground.
The treatment plan for an elbow injury is devised in accordance with three main factors:
The location, type and severity of injury How long has it been since the injury occurred Your age, health condition and activities, such as sports, work or hobbies
To being with, as an elbow injury occurs, check whether you have excessive pain, swelling or inability to move the elbow. Follow the below steps in this situation:
Ask for medical help immediately Splint the injured arm Secure it with an elastic wrap Apply a covered ice pack over the area for 10 to 30 minute intervals
The subsequent treatment plan for the most of sports-related elbow injuries includes:
Rest the affected area and do not use or bear weight Apply an ice-pack covered in cloth to the affected area for 15-20 minutes, 4 to 8 times a day Use an elastic bandage to compress the affected area to reduce the swelling Elevate the affected part to reduce swelling
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as aspirin and acetaminophen are the most common form of medication prescribed for elbow injuries.
Other forms of treatment include:
Laser treatment Steroid injections Massage Stretching and other exercises