Armbar Elbow Injuries

Armbar injuries are common. In fact, the most common injury BJJ athletes ask me for help with. Worst case scenario, you could have a bone fracture. Best case, you have a light sprain of your ligaments and tendons. Regardless, you need to take the right steps to heal it properly in order to avoid lingering elbow problems.

This post highlights the most common structures injured after a painful armbar and briefly walks through a rehab protocol you should follow. Be sure to also check out our other posts on armbar elbow injuries, like this: Do you have an elbow fracture?

We also have a live online workshop going over all things armbar elbow injuries – answering specific questions on injuries and sharing first steps to rehab. Get the replay here.

Armbar Injuries: Common Structures Injured

An armbar works because it hyper-extends the elbow joint, putting large forces on all the structures. The common structures that get over-loaded include the bicep and forearm muscles, bicep tendon, and the elbow ligaments that stabilize the joint.  On top of this, the bones lock when fully extended and can sometimes get damaged.

Elbow Joint Explained for armbar injury
armbar elbow injury nerve

When hyper-extended, all these structures in the elbow are over-stressed and can be the source of your problem. Commonly heard pops are often ruptured ligaments, tendons, and/or bone fractures. Get a more in depth breakdown here: Armbar Elbow Injuries.

The Most Common Injuries from Armbars

Based on a BJJ study in 2017, and further confirmed by the armbar injuries we rehab, the most common injury is a total or partial rupture of the common flexor tendons. Following this, ruptures of the ulnar collateral ligament (UCL), bone bruises and micro-fractures of the elbow, swelling in the elbow joint, and nerve injuries. 

Does your elbow hurt ever since you got caught in an armbar? Trying massage, stretching, and everything else, only to find the pain returns? You likely are missing the key to rehab for an armbar injury. Ready to finally fix your armbar injury for good? Start with our Free Elbow Rehab Guide, showing you the exact steps we use to assess and rehab these injuries.

Sometimes shoulder injuries occur with armbars as well. Be sure to check out our free Shoulder Injury Rehab Guide for BJJ Athletes if your shoulder is also bothering you. 

Assess Your Armbar Injury

The biggest potential problem is a fracture of your elbow bone(s). A simple test will help you find out if you have a fracture or not. A study from 2008 (source at end) showed that if you are unable to complete the simple test, there is more than a 50% chance of fracture and you need an x-ray.

If you can complete this test, it is unlikely you fractured anything. This is great news as your return to training time has just been drastically reduced. If you cannot complete this test, you should see your doctor and organize an x-ray. 

Keep in mind the test isn’t 100%, so you may be able to complete the test and still have a fracture, or visa versa. 

This is why a professional assessment is very important and can save you time, money, and keep you training. Get in touch today for a full online assessment to find out how bad your injury is. 

Rehab Plan for your Armbar Elbow Injury

There are 3 steps to the armbar rehab plan to get your elbow feeling strong and stable again.

Phase 1: Control Symptoms (1-3 weeks)

Often with joint injuries, due to swelling, inflammation, and protective guarding, you wont be able to bend or straighten it as smoothly as normal. The first step to rehab is regaining this movement back. An easy way to regain that mobility include daily exercises. 2 great exercises to regain mobility include:

Gapped Elbow Flexion

Active Elbow Extension

Phase 2: Build Up Strength (6-8 weeks)

Once you have regained normal range of movement, it is time to start loading into that full range. Below, some excellent rehab exercises are highlighted:

Push-up position weight rocking back and forth 1x 1 min.

Full Elbow Flx Hold 1×1 min.

Phase 3: Maintain & Sustain Results

At this point we can rehab your elbow back to 100% and then some. Most athletes report their injured elbow now feeling like the ‘strong elbow.’ This phase is about injury prevention and addressing restrictions that put you at risk for future problems. In short, this keeps you healed for the long-term. This 3 phase system is the key to successful rehab and has worked on every single armbar injury we have helped. 

Next Steps for your Armbar Elbow Injury

  1. Check out our live armbar workshop, full of specific exercises explained each step of the way to grade you through a rehab process which has worked for 95% of the armbar injuries I have treated. Find it here ARMBAR WORKSHOP
  2. Read our NEXT STEPS Rehab Protocol. 
  3. Download or FREE Armbar Injury Guide
  4. Take a crack at Rehab-It-Yourself, with our Online Course. Try 1 Week Free 

armbar injury 

The worst thing you can do is keep waiting hoping it will completely heal by itself. Every day you delay, the harder it is to get back to 100%. It is your body, take care of it! If you don’t know where to start, contact us today! We are happy to offer helpful advice to get you moving in the right direction.

  📚📚📚 SOURCE: Appelboam et al. Elbow extension test to rule out elbow fracture. BMJ 2008;337:a2428


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