Supporting a Full Recovery from a Sprained Elbow

Your elbow contains four ligaments that connect your upper and lower arm bones to the joint. Although these are strong bands of tissue, they can become overstretched or torn, causing a sprained elbow.

Sprained elbows are usually an acute or sudden injury. They often occur in sports, after a hard fall, or from a direct blow that twists, jams, or bends the joint unnaturally. It is common, for example, to sprain an elbow when you put your arms out to cushion a fall. Suddenly putting all of your body weight on the joint can cause it to extend in the wrong direction.

A male tennis player with a tennis racket in hand in white clutches his elbow in pain Symptoms of a sprained elbow include:

  • A “popping” noise when you injure the elbow
  • Sudden severe pain
  • Bruising
  • Swelling
  • Redness or warmth around your elbow

Because the symptoms of a sprained elbow are similar to other common elbow and arm injuries, including forearm fractures, elbow dislocations, and tendon tears, see a physician for evaluation and treatment right away.

EmergeOrtho—Triangle Region’s team of elbow and arm specialists are here to help. Using a multidisciplinary approach combining the latest medical advancements with unparalleled patient care, we help all patients Emerge Stronger, Healthier, and Better.

Treating Elbow Conditions at EmergeOrtho—Triangle Region

The first step to treating any arm or elbow injury is a physical exam, and in many cases, X-rays to rule out a fracture to your arm bones or elbow joint. An MRI may also be necessary to determine whether the ligaments were torn or overstretched.

If you are diagnosed with a sprained elbow, treatment may include:

  • A sling to immobilize your arm while the ligaments heal.
  • A cast or splint for a more severe sprain that requires additional support.
  • Physical therapy to strengthen your arm and restore mobility in your elbow.

Most simple sprains heal within four weeks. As part of that healing process, home-based care is essential. The RICE protocol (rest, ice, compression, elevation) helps alleviate pain and swelling. Over-the-counter pain relievers can also reduce discomfort.

Rarely is surgery necessary for a sprained elbow. Even severe ligament tears will typically heal on their own with rest and bracing. If the pain does not decrease within several months or elbow function is not restored after treatment, arthroscopic surgery to repair the torn ligament may be necessary.

Other Common Elbow Injuries

Although sprained elbows are common, your injury could be something else that requires different treatment.

Elbow Fracture

An olecranon fracture is a break in the bony tip of the elbow. Although a minor fracture may heal on its own, most broken elbows require surgery to restore the joint to normal function.

Radial Head Fracture

The radius is a bone in your forearm, and the radial head is the upper part of the bone where it meets the elbow joint. When you put your arm out to break a fall, this is the part of your arm most likely to fracture.

Dislocated Elbow

A radial head fracture may also occur with an elbow dislocation. If the surfaces of the elbow joint are separated either full or partially, the joint is dislocated. A dislocation can damage surrounding tissue as well.

Ulnar Collateral Ligament (UCL) Injury

A UCL injury is more likely to come from overuse than a hard hit or fall, but it has similar symptoms to a sprained elbow. The UCL is the tendon that runs on the inside of the elbow. Injuries can range from mild inflammation to a total tear or rupture of the ligament.

Treat Your Elbow Injuries at EmergeOrtho—Triangle Region

If you have an elbow injury causing you pain, do not wait to seek treatment. Self-schedule an appointment with one of our board-certified, fellowship-trained Elbow and Arm Doctors, or call us any time at (919) 220-5255.

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