Need input from anyone with experience with a destroyed elbow

curlycurly Issaquah, WASenior Member

I have a friend who destroyed her elbow in a recent mishap. Shattered it in nine places. She had surgery and I'm not quite sure what exactly was done. I'm not sure if there was elbow replacement surgery or what. The upshot is that her doctor said she wouldn't be able to swim freestyle or any stroke that pushes more than 5 lbs through the water ever again.

Short of getting another doctor to tell her better news, does anyone have any experience with an injury like this? Does she really have to give up swimming? Any ideas or knowledge would be helpful.

Oh, and just because you might be wondering how a lovely woman could possibly shatter her elbow in nine places, it was not a swimming accident. She is a competitive ballroom dancer and was doing some sort of impossible move.

... And we thought swimming was a dangerous sport...


  • abbygirlroseabbygirlrose Los Angeles and Palo Alto, CASenior Member

    oh man! I don't have any advice except to say that I rehabbed a minor elbow injury in 2021 and man do I feel for your friend!

  • I also don't know anything about that sort of injury, specifically....
    but, I fell and got a compression fracture of my radial head this past October.
    I can say that anatomically, a TON of stuff happens at and across the elbow.
    My fracture wasn't nearly as bad as it could have been, but I still wasn't able to compose more than 2 emails without having to stop and rest to let the aching and discomfort past for a number of weeks.

    That being said, it might be worth seeking out a good physical therapist who has experience dealing with swimmers. It will definitely be a long recovery, that's for sure.....but if she can find a PT who will work with "what can I do?" versus "what am I NOT allowed to do" that might be more workable.

  • IronMikeIronMike Northern VirginiaCharter Member

    I shattered my elbow at age 10 (way back when, and no don't ask how) and required two surgeries to just get to limited flexibility (I can't touch my right shoulder with my right arm, nor can I open my right arm all the way straight). When I joined the military, the doctor at the Military Entrance Processing Station came out of his office with a HUGE protractor, and my elbow's range (~100*) just made the cut for allowing me to enlist.

    Long story long, it has affected my physical fitness. Certain weight-lifting exercises I have trouble with (I can't front rack a barbell on my shoulders, for example). I have a very wide arm recovery in freestyle. Coaches like to yell at me (blasted finger-drag) for high elbow, but that just doesn't work for me.

    Most applicable to your question, if I do something seriously long (for me) then I have elbow issues after (ibuprofen helps me ignore/avoid this during the swim). These issues present themselves several different ways: my elbow will lock (rarely); pin-point pain in the elbow point or in the massive mass of cartilage that built up after the surgeries (I had broken my growth plate along with the elbow and the ends of the humerus); worst, and most often, tendinitis in the bicipitals. An orthopedic surgeon told me (I was 45 at the time) that he'd never seen elbow arthritis before, but when he looked at my scans, he said "...but I imagine that's what elbow arthritis looks like."

    I found if I moderate any activity that requires my right arm, I can keep the pain away. If I go a long time (2 weeks?) without activity (weights, swimming), then the tendinitis and other pains come back. Or if I do a long swim and don't keep up the anti-inflammatory for 24-48 hours after, then I have to put my arm in a sling. (After my wee little crossing in Kyrgyzstan, 8+ miles at a mile above sea level, the next morning as we were driving back to Bishkek, I reached from the passenger seat to adjust the A/C vent, and my elbow exploded. I was in a sling for the rest of the day.)

    Again, long story long, but if I were in your friend's shoes, I'd get a second opinion, and regardless, once I felt ok, I'd try to swim anyway. Good luck to her!


    We're all just carbon, water, starlight, oxygen and dreams

Sign In or Register to comment.