If you suffer an elbow injury, your ability to use your arm in sports or exercise will be limited. Nagging, chronic elbow pain afflicts many overhead athletes and active individuals. Traumatic injuries to the elbow occur in sports and exercise as well. In this article, I discuss some of the more common acute, traumatic injuries that you can suffer. They are not listed in any particular order.

Elbow injury #1 – Distal biceps tendon rupture

A distal biceps injury often occurs in an active male in his 50’s. I often see them occur in a younger active person, such as a male in his 30s who likes to lift weights. The biceps tendon pulls off of the bone in the forearm. The patient will notice a tearing sensation followed by bruising and a bulge in the arm (Popeye deformity). Nonoperative treatment might be enough for a less active patient. Surgeons usually reattach the tendon surgically in an athlete or active individual.

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Distal biceps tendon rupture

Popeye deformity from a distal biceps tendon rupture
Note the bruising around the elbow as well as the prominence of the biceps muscle (“Popeye” deformity).

Elbow injury #2 – Triceps tendon rupture

This is a traumatic rupture of the triceps tendon in the back of the arm as it inserts into the olecranon (bony prominence at the tip of the elbow). Football players and other athletes in contact or collision sports and weightlifters suffer these ruptures. Athletes usually need surgery, where the surgeon reattaches or repairs the tendon.

If you’re concerned that you suffered a distal biceps or triceps rupture, consider seeing an orthopedic surgeon in the first few days after the injury. Surgery in the first few weeks after injury usually has good outcomes.

Also read:
Triceps tendon rupture

Elbow injury #3 – Ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) injury – “Tommy John” injury

Injury to the ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) is commonly called a Tommy John injury. The UCL stabilizes the elbow against stress from throwing and other repetitive overhead activities. Baseball players, especially pitchers, most often suffer these elbow injuries. Occasionally an acute rupture of the UCL can occur. Most of the time, though, the ligament slowly wears out until it finally ruptures. The orthopedic surgeon reconstructs the ligament using a tendon graft in a high-level overhead athlete with a complete UCL tear.

Also read:
Ulnar Collateral Ligament Injuries (“Tommy John Surgery”)

Elbow injury #4 – Osteochondritis dissecans of the capitellum

Osteochondritis dissecans is a disorder of a small area of bone, and occasionally the overlying articular cartilage, on the lateral (side away from the midline or outside) side of the elbow. This injury often occurs in a young athlete who performs weight-bearing activities with her upper extremities. Gymnasts, cheerleaders and baseball pitchers occasionally develop OCD lesions of the elbow. Rest and activity modification can often help this injury heal if the athlete hasn’t finished growing. In an older athlete, or one with a detached or unstable bone and cartilage fragment, surgery is often necessary.

Also read:
Osteochondritis Dissecans of the Capitellum

Elbow injury #5 – Elbow dislocation

Significant force is required to dislocate the elbow joint. A traumatic event with a lot of force is need to cause this injury. It can occur in contact and collision sports. The athlete hits the ground and lands on his hand. Urgent reduction of the joint to put it in proper place is essential. Fractures in the bones of the elbow can occur in these injuries as well. Simple dislocations often can be treated without surgery.

This list of traumatic elbow injuries in sports and exercise is not comprehensive. These are probably the most common injuries. Each of them can keep you out of activities for a long time. Some require surgery and extensive recovery time.

Athlete with pain after an elbow injury

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