DefinitionAn elbow sprain is stretching or tearing of the ligaments that stabilize the elbow. Ligaments are strong bands of tissue that cross joints and connect bones to each other.
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CausesElbow sprains may be caused by:
- Forced twisting of the arm
- Falling on an outstretched arm
- A blow to the elbow
Risk FactorsFactors that may increase your risk of an elbow sprain include:
- Playing certain sports, such as gymnastics or baseball
- Poor coordination
- Poor balance
- Inadequate flexibility and strength in muscles and ligaments
- Loose joints or connective tissue disorders
SymptomsElbow sprain may cause:
- Pain, tenderness, and swelling around the elbow
- Redness, warmth, or bruising around the elbow
- Limited ability to move the elbow
- Pain when moving the elbow
DiagnosisYou will be asked about your symptoms and how you injured your elbow. Your elbow will be examined to assess the stability of the joint and the severity of the injury.Imaging tests may include:
- Grade 1—Some stretching with micro-tearing of ligament tissue.
- Grade 2—Partial tearing of ligament tissue.
- Grade 3—Complete tearing of ligament tissue.
Acute CareAcute care may involve:
- Resting the elbow
- Avoiding activities that cause pain or put stress on the elbow
- Icing the elbow to reduce swelling and discomfort
- Using over-the-counter, topical, or prescription pain relievers
- Over-the-counter medication, such as aspirin, ibuprofen, or acetaminophen
- Topical pain medication—creams or patches that are applied to the skin
- Prescription pain relievers
RecoveryExtra support may be needed to help protect, support, and keep your elbow in line while it heals. Supportive steps may include:
- Wearing a brace or sling
- Rehabilitation exercises advised by your doctor or physical therapist
- Surgery in some cases
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