Subbed Out Due To An Elbow Fracture?

Like any contact sport, there are some risks to playing basketball. The sport is fast, requires repeated jumping, and involves aggressive body contact. As a result, players are at high risk of injuries. Among the many types of basketball injuries players can experience, elbow fractures are high on the list due to the potential for an awkward fall or collision. This injury can cause severe pain, swelling, difficulty moving the arm, and sometimes, deformity. As such, players who sustain elbow fractures may have to sit out of the game temporarily until a healthcare provider has given a return-to-play clearance. This waiting period varies, depending on the severity of the injury and the treatment options utilized.


Understanding fractures

An elbow fracture involves a break or cracks in 1 or more bones that make up the elbow joint. This joint is a meeting of the ends of 3 bones, namely the humerus, radius, and ulna. These bones are covered by smooth cartilage, ligaments, and tendons. The injury can range from a simple crack to a complex break that may damage surrounding structures such as tendons and nerves. An elbow fracture often results from a direct blow to the elbow or a fall on an outstretched hand.

What are the treatment options?

Elbow fractures are treated based on the type and severity of the fracture. For less severe fractures, non-surgical treatment is typically the first choice. This includes immobilization with a cast, splint, or brace for several weeks to allow the bones to heal. Pain medication may be recommended to manage discomfort. After the initial immobilization period, physical therapy (PT) often follows to regain strength and restore the range of motion (ROM) in the elbow. Severe or complex fractures may require surgery involving reconstructing the broken bones, fixing the bones in place, or even replacing the elbow joint in extreme cases. Minimally invasive surgery (MIS) can shorten the healing time by several weeks, as this approach uses smaller incisions. Regardless of the treatment, rehabilitation is a necessary part of recovery. This often includes exercises and therapy to restore mobility and strength to the elbow joint.

Recovery and rehabilitation

The recovery period for an elbow fracture depends on the severity of the fracture, the patient’s general health, and the chosen treatment pathway. For minor fractures, initial healing might take about 6-8 weeks, during which the elbow is immobilized. Afterward, PT may be needed for several weeks or months to regain strength and restore full function in the elbow. Surgical cases, on the other hand, may require an extended healing period. This approach may require several months to a year to recover completely. Following surgery, patients often need extensive PT to restore mobility and strength to the elbow joint.

When can players return to basketball?

The timeline for returning to basketball after an elbow fracture varies depending on the severity of the injury, the type of treatment utilized, and the individual’s response to rehabilitation. For minor fractures treated non-surgically, players might be able to return to playing basketball after a few months of recovery and conditioning. However, for severe fractures or injuries requiring surgery, recovery and rehabilitation can take several months to a year before a player can safely return to the game.

Back to the hardwood

Players should gradually ease back into the game even after receiving medical clearance. Starting with light training drills before moving on to more intensive practice and eventually playing games can be a good approach. Professional athletes may have a shorter timeline, but the average return to sport is usually several months. Return-to-play should also involve maintaining a routine of strength and flexibility exercises to minimize re-injury risk.

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