Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center - Health Library

Elbow Sprain

Definition

An elbow sprain is stretching or tearing of the ligaments of the elbow. Ligaments are strong bands of tissue that connect bones to each other.

The Elbow
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Causes  ^

Elbow sprains may be caused by:

  • Forced twisting of the arm
  • Falling on an outstretched arm
  • A blow to the elbow

Risk Factors  ^

Here are some factors that may raise your risk:

  • Playing certain sports, such as gymnastics or baseball
  • Poor coordination
  • Poor balance
  • Poor flexibility and strength
  • Loose joints or connective tissue problems

Symptoms  ^

Having this problem may cause:

  • Pain and swelling of the elbow
  • Redness, warmth, or bruising
  • Problems moving the elbow

Diagnosis  ^

You will be asked about your symptoms and how you hurt your elbow. The doctor will look at your elbow to see whether it is stable.

Pictures may be taken of your elbow. This can be done with:

Elbow sprains are graded from 1 to 3:

  • Grade 1—Some stretching with micro-tearing of ligament
  • Grade 2—Partial tearing of ligament
  • Grade 3—Complete tearing of ligament

Treatment  ^

Treatment includes:

Acute Care

Acute care may involve:

  • Resting the elbow
  • Stopping anything that causes pain or puts stress on the elbow
  • Using ice for swelling and pain
  • Using pain relievers

Pain Relief Medicines

Your doctor may tell you to take pain medicine. You may be told to take:

  • Over-the-counter medication, such as aspirin or acetaminophen
  • Topical pain medication—creams or patches that are put on the skin
  • Prescription pain medicine

Note: Aspirin is not advised for children with a current or recent viral infection. Check with your doctor before giving your child aspirin.

Recovery

Extra support may be needed to protect, support, and keep your elbow in line. This may mean:

  • Wearing a brace or sling
  • Exercises advised by your doctor or physical therapist
  • Surgery, in some cases

Prevention  ^

You cannot always prevent an elbow sprain. There are steps you can take to lower your chance of one, though. These include:

  • Wearing safety equipment and using proper technique while playing sports
  • Keeping elbows and arms strong with regular exercise
RESOURCES:

American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine
http://www.sportsmed.org

Ortho Info—American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
http://orthoinfo.aaos.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Canadian Orthopaedic Association
http://www.coa-aco.org

Canadian Orthopaedic Foundation
http://www.canorth.org

REFERENCES:

Derry S, Moore RA, Gaskell H, McIntyre M, Wiffen PJ. Topical NSAIDs for acute musculoskeletal pain in adults. Cochrane Database Syst Rev.2015;(6):CD007402.

Fast facts about sprains and strains. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases website. Available at: http://www.niams.nih.gov/health_info/Sprains_Strains/sprains_and_strains_ff.asp. Updated January 30, 2015. Accessed June 11, 2018.

Sprains and strains: What's the difference? Ortho Info—American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons website. Available at: http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00111. Updated July 2015. Accessed June 11, 2018.

Sprains, strains and other soft-tissue injuries. Ortho Info—American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons website. Available at: http://www.orthoinfo.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00111. Updated July 2015. Accessed June 11, 2018.

Last reviewed June 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Laura Lei-Rivera, PT, DPT, GCS  Last Updated: 6/11/2018