Our upper extremities are some of the most used parts of our body, and an injury or surgery to these important body parts can have a huge impact on our lives. Pain in the elbow can be due to a number of difference reasons, such as an injury, genetics (i.e.: arthritis runs in the family), post-surgery recovery not complete yet, etc. Keep reading if you are interested in learning how cold therapy can help with constant elbow pain, elbow injuries and post-elbow surgery recovery.
Some Information on Cold Therapy
Cold therapy involves applying something extremely cold (ice pack, bag of frozen food, etc.) on an area to reduce pain and swelling. The cold effect reduces blood flow to the affected part of the body, as well as numbs the nerve endings in the areas where you are feeling discomfort, which reduces the pain. Cold therapy is one of the best and simplest ways of combating pain and has been used for many decades.
If you have ever applied ice packs to a swollen body part, what you have done is cold therapy. Cold therapy may be in the form of ice packs, ice massage, coolant sprays, or ice baths and can easily be done at home to treat injuries and reduce the pain after undergoing surgery. Cold therapy can be used for many aches and pains, but for the purpose of today’s article, we are going to cover elbow injuries and post-elbow surgery recovery.
Constant Elbow Pain, Injuries and Surgery
Below we’ve identified some of the most common types of elbow injuries and elbow surgeries.
Elbow pain and injuries
- Tennis elbow (lateral epicondylitis): This extremely common elbow injury is caused by overuse of the elbow which leads to inflammation of the tendons outside of the elbow joint. Don’t let the name fool you though, tennis elbow can also afflict people who don’t play tennis and it generally leads to weaker grip strength and uncomfortable and painful sensation on the outside part of the elbow. Cold therapy can be used for this injury as it helps to reduce inflammation and pain.
- Flexor Tendinitis: This is an inflammation of the flexor/pronator muscles and manifests as a painful sensation on the inside of the elbow when you make a throwing motion.
- Olecranon Stress Fracture: This injury occurs when the muscles become fatigued or weakened and transfer some of the stress to the bone, causing small cracks that produce painful sensations in the underside of the elbow. These fractures can be painful and are usually common among athletes who throw with extreme force such as baseball players. Click here for more information on Olecranon Stress Fractures.
- Ulnar Collateral Ligament Injury (UCL): This is another inner elbow injury which is usually experienced by people who throw a lot. The injury may be as little as a minor tear and swelling or as serious as the rupture of the entire ligament. It results in elbow pain and reduced throwing power.
- Valgus Extension Overload: This injury is the result of the bony prominence on the elbow exerting pressure against the humerus during an activity that involves twisting the arm. The constant friction causes the bone in the elbow to grow spurs. It is common among baseball pitchers and can cause pain, swelling, and reduced range of motion.
Constant elbow pain may also be due to dislocation of the elbow, muscle strain, ligament sprain, and bursitis which is the inflammation of the fluid-containing sacs in the joint.
Common elbow surgeries
Here are some of the common elbow surgeries:
- Open Elbow surgery – This type of surgery is fairly common where the surgeon uses a 4-5 cm incision over the elbow and could involve tendon or muscle repair. Often, damaged portions of tendon are removed and the remaining portion sutured back together.
- Arthroscopic elbow surgery – This type of elbow surgery involves small incisions, which are used to place instruments inside the affected area to fix or remove damaged components of the elbow joint (usually done under video guidance).
- Ulnar nerve anterior transposition – This surgery involves moving the Ulnar nerve from the back of the medial epicondyle, to a better position (i.e.: where it doesn’t get pinched or aggravated by the medial epicondyle.
- UCL reconstruction – Fairly common surgery among athletes who do repetitive overhead throwing. Over time, the ligament becomes insufficient and tends to rupture, which results in medial pain as well as lack of power when throwing. This surgery involves replacing the damaged ligament with a tendon from somewhere else in the body.
Why and How to Use Cold Therapy
If you want to reduce the pain and swelling which normally occurs after a recent injury or when you are recovering from surgery, this is where cold therapy comes in. There are many different ways you can apply ice to your affected elbow, such as a simple bag of ice, reusable cold pack, elbow ice wrap, etc. Here are a few general guidelines when it comes to using cold therapy to treat your aches and pains:
- When using cold therapy to reduce the pain or swelling of any part of the body, ice should be applied to the affected area, but indirectly. By this we mean that it is necessary to place the ice or cold pack on a towel or other material, versus applying ice directly to the skin, which can damage it.
- Ice should not be applied to the skin for more than 20 minutes at a time. The general rule is to apply ice on the skin for about 20 minutes every 3 to 4 hours interval, as and when needed. (Note: Your situation may require a different internal, so it is important to consult your doctor/surgeon for specific instructions.)
- During icing, keep checking your skin for sensation and discontinue the icing if you feel any numbness in your skin.
- For some, cold therapy may need to be combined with other treatment methods such as rest, elevation, and compression (i.e.: the R.I.C.E. principle). Start by resting your elbows and staying away from the activity that caused the injury. For compression, this is where our Cold Therapy Wrap for Elbow Pain and Surgery can help. Click on the image below for details on how compression can help the recovery process:
Cold therapy is not new, but it is an effective way of reducing the constant elbow pain and swelling that comes with elbow surgery and/or injuries, and many other pain-related issues such as knee pain, back pain and more. Have you deal with elbow pain before, or maybe you have undergone elbow surgery at some point in your life? If so, we’d love to hear about your experience. How long was the recovery? What forms of treatment did you use? Etc. Just use the comment form below.
Until next time.
Disclaimer: We are not doctors here at SimplyJnJ. The information on constant elbow pain, elbow injuries and post-elbow surgery recovery options mentioned above is for informational purposes only. You should always consult a medical practitioner for a proper diagnosis and before you start any form of treatment.