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 http://www.sportsmed.org
Ortho Info—American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons http://orthoinfo.aaos.org
Canadian Orthopaedic Association http://www.coa-aco.org
Canadian Orthopaedic Foundation http://www.canorth.org
Derry S, Moore RA, et al. 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.
- Reviewer: EBSCO Medical Review Board Teresa Briedwell, PT, DPT
- Review Date: 09/2020
- Update Date: 06/04/2021