Elbow Injuries in Vehicle Accidents

Elbow injuries in vehicle accidents either occur from bracing against the steering wheel, dashboard, or back of the seat, or a direct impact against some part of the inside of the vehicle. While fractures are uncommon, they certainly can occur. Usually the elbow will be extremely swollen and painful and an x-ray will show a fracture. Immediate referral to an orthopedic surgeon is appropriate to either cast or operate on the area.

Much more common is the syndrome called radial head dysfunction. The radius runs from the base of the thumb to the outer aspect of the elbow. The radial head attaches to the elbow and can be “jammed” during the trauma of an accident. This usually leads to significant muscle spasm over the surrounding tissues. The tight muscle then “tugs” on its tendon as it inserts onto the elbow, causing “lateral epicondylitis” or the more commonly known name of “tennis elbow”. A similar syndrome can occur on the inside of the elbow and is called “medial epicondylitis” or “golfer’s elbow”. Both injuries respond well to ice and anti-inflammatories (if they are not contraindicated), gentle stretching of the forearm muscles, the use of cortisone via iontophoresis (patch) or cortisone injection, or laser therapy.

While these injures can be extremely painful and temporarily debilitating, they normally respond well to the above-noted management.

A Better Way to Get Better,
Adrian Lewis
Adrian Lewis, MD