An elbow sprain is stretching or tearing of the ligaments of the elbow. Ligaments are strong bands of tissue that hold bones to each other.
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An elbow sprain is when a force pushes the bones of the elbow apart. If the force is strong enough, the ligament comes apart. This can happen from things like:
- A blow to the elbow
- Forced twisting of the arm
- An impact with an object or another person
- Falling on an outstretched arm
Things that may raise the risk of this problem are:
- Playing sports, such as gymnastics or baseball
- Poor coordination or balance
- Poor flexibility and strength
- Loose joints
Problems may be:
- Pain and tenderness in the elbow
- Swelling, warmth, or bruising around the elbow
- Problems moving the elbow
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and health history. You will also be asked how you injured your elbow. A physical exam will be done. It will focus on your elbow.
It can be hard to tell a sprain from a fracture or dislocation. Pictures may be taken. This can be done with:
Treatment will depend on the joint and how severe the injury is. The goal of treatment is to ease pain and improve movement. Choices are:
- Supportive care, such as rest, ice, a compression bandage, and raising the elbow to ease pain and swelling
- Medicine, such as over the counter or prescription pain relievers
- Wearing a brace or sling to support the elbow as it heals
- Physical therapy to improve strength and range of motion
Some people may need surgery to repair a ligament that is torn.
Most sprains are due to accidents. They cannot always be prevented. The risk may be lowered by:
- Using the right safety gear and techniques when playing sports
- Stretching and strengthening the ligaments that support the elbow
American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine
Ortho Info—American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
Canadian Orthopaedic Association
Canadian Orthopaedic Foundation
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.
Sprains and strains. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases website. Available at: https://www.niams.nih.gov/health-topics/sprains-and-strains. Accessed October 14, 2020.
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. Accessed October 14, 2020.
Topical NSAIDs. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:https://www.dynamed.com/drug-review/topical-nsaids. Accessed October 12, 2020.
Last reviewed September 2020 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Teresa Briedwell, PT, DPT Last Updated: 10/14/2020