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The arm is in use across almost all forms of sport and exercise. You need to bend your elbow and swing your arms to aid in propulsion during walking and running. The arm muscles work hard to bend the elbow and produce the movement required to bowl a cricket ball, swing a racquet or throw a dart. Sports involving the use of the arm can result in quite common conditions such as tennis elbow and golfers elbow. In addition to that many arm injuries arise from trips and falls where a person uses their arms to protect themselves, since they are the first point of contact with the floor, with many an A&E department prescribing an arm sling in the immediate aftermath to secure the arm following injury.
Three bones make up the structure of the arm; the upper arm is formed by the humerus and the forearm consists of the radius and ulna. Arm movement occurs in three places; the shoulder, elbow and wrist. There are numerous muscles in the arm which work to bend and straighten the elbow.
The elbow joint is formed where the distal end of the Humerus meet the proximal ends of the Radius and Ulna, with these bones joined through Articular cartilage. The joint itself is quite complex and offers movement (flexion, extension and rotation) of the forearm relative to the upper arm.
More information on the anatomy of the elbow joint is available here along with a 2D interactive view and a 3D rotate and zoom function.
A person can suffer sudden injuries such as fractures and dislocation from accidents during everyday activities as well as during sport and exercise. Following treatment for these types of injuries you may well be advised to use an arm sling to elevate the arm and protect it from further impact.
Many people develop injuries over a longer time period due to overuse or repetitive actions at the elbow. Some of the most common injuries of the elbow joint include:
Tennis Elbow - Tennis elbow (lateral epicondylitis) is caused by overuse of the muscles and tendons which control the movement of your forearm, wrist and fingers and remains one of the most common tennis injuries. These muscles and tendons become damaged and cause pain just below the elbow. You may also experience pain when lifting or bending your arm, when gripping small objects, such as a pen, and when twisting the forearm.
Bursitis - Bursae are small sacs that provide protection where bones, muscle, skin, tendon or ligaments are in contact. These can become inflamed and injured due to overuse and can occur in any bursa, especially at joints such as the shoulder, knee, hip and elbow. This results in pain and swelling of the elbow which should subside with rest; reducing the swelling and pain by using an ice pack will help. After rest the pain should be gone within a few weeks, the swelling may take a little longer. If the symptoms last longer than two weeks you should visit your doctor.
Tendonitis - Tendons are strong bands of tissue that connect muscle to bone. The tendon itself can become damaged or in some cases a protective sheath that covers the tendon can be damaged. Areas that can be affected by tendonitis include the shoulder, wrist, thigh, knee and elbow. If the tendon is damaged this will cause pain in that area as well as weakness and swelling. There may also be a ‘grating’ sensation as the tendon moves. Rest, ice packs, physiotherapy and sports bracing will all help to improve the recovery of the tendon. As with all injuries you should visit your doctor if the pain continues after rest.
Certain injuries resulting from overuse are impossible to prevent, such as tennis elbow, therefore the use of a sports brace can help speed up your rehabilitation in allowing you to get back onto the field of play faster. Braces are designed to provide compression to an affected area which can work to manage pain and inflammation, two of the things which can hinder your performance, whilst an arm sling is used to simply protect the arm through immobilisation.