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How do I Treat an Elbow Sprain?

Treating an elbow sprain involves R.I.C.E. therapy: Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. Rest your arm, apply ice to reduce swelling, use a compression bandage, and keep your elbow elevated. Over-the-counter pain relievers can help manage discomfort. For severe sprains, physical therapy may be recommended. Curious about the step-by-step process and how to prevent future injuries? Keep reading for detailed insights and tips.
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

It can be very difficult to determine the severity of an elbow strain, so it's best to see a medical professional if you have an elbow sprain. You'll likely want to wear a sling to support the arm and use ice and over-the-counter pain medication to help relieve the swelling and pain. The healthcare professional who evaluates your injury will probably recommend resting the elbow for several days, although a brace or even surgery could be required in cases of severe sprains.

Any type of sprain indicates a stretching and potentially tearing of the ligaments. A sprain in the elbow may present with swelling, significant pain, a popping sound, bruising around the joint, and more severe pain if the arm is moved. Since people will likely have to transport a person with an elbow sprain to an urgent care center or hospital, there are a few initial treatments that may help make this a little easier.

It is recommended to ice the elbow and use a sling.
It is recommended to ice the elbow and use a sling.

First, it may be useful to create a sling for the elbow so support for the arm shifts to the neck and shoulders. Using a pillowcase, a thin sheet, or other appropriate fabric, wrap it under the injured arm and tie the fabric around the side of the neck so that the arm is held still. Sometimes, resting the arm in a sling, because it is bent, makes the person uncomfortable. When this is the case, using a stretchy bandage or wrap to keep the elbow straight may be a better choice.

A sling with ice may be used on an elbow sprain.
A sling with ice may be used on an elbow sprain.

Whether a sling or wrap is used, the elbow should also be iced. When available, a cold pack from the freezer is great, although frozen vegetables like peas or corn also work very well since they will sit around the joint with greater ease. Initial icing should last for 15-20 minutes, and this should be repeated in three hours. You can also take acetaminophen or ibuprofen for the pain.

If a sling makes the elbow uncomfortable because it is bent, wrapping it to keep it straight may prove more comfortable.
If a sling makes the elbow uncomfortable because it is bent, wrapping it to keep it straight may prove more comfortable.

At the hospital, a medical professional will assess the elbow, and evaluate things like swelling and movement. It may be necessary to take an X-ray or other scans to determine degree of ligament damage. When damage is only mild, treatment might include stabilization of the elbow with a wrap, sling, or brace, if necessary. People might be told to rest the arm at home, use ice every three to four hours, and not to resume regular activities for a few days.

The elbow joint.
The elbow joint.

More severe elbow sprain may correspond to greater limits in activity. A sprain of significant magnitude would likely require a brace. If the damage to the ligaments is very severe and they are torn, the healthcare professional may recommend surgery. After surgery, you might require physical therapy when the arm is recovered so that the full range of motion is retained or restored.

Ice packs reduce the pain and swelling of an elbow sprain.
Ice packs reduce the pain and swelling of an elbow sprain.

Given the variety of treatments for an elbow sprain, it should not be surprising that home treatment could fall on the side of being extremely inadequate. Joints are very important, since they create much greater range of motion, so protecting them by getting medical help for an sprain simply makes good sense.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent TheHealthBoard contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

Learn more...
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent TheHealthBoard contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

Learn more...

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Discussion Comments

Rundocuri

Though it is not recommended by doctors, I know that many people use heat for an elbow sprain. While this treatment may feel good, especially in cold weather, it could potentially make the sprain worse because heat can promote swelling.

Even if you are tempted to use heat on an elbow sprain, avoid this temptation. Just like the article says, using a comfortable cold compress will reduce swelling over time, which in turn will decrease pain.

Raynbow

Whether you are healing from an elbow sprain or from surgery you had to have to correct it, it is very important to get plenty of rest. Too many people do not accept this advice and continue to try to push themselves through their daily routine activities. Not only will this make any pain that is caused by the injury worse, but being too active during the healing process will delay healing.

Follow your doctor's orders, get into a comfortable position, and rest as much as possible until your elbow sprain has healed.

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    • It is recommended to ice the elbow and use a sling.
      By: Lovrencg
      It is recommended to ice the elbow and use a sling.
    • A sling with ice may be used on an elbow sprain.
      By: Leo Lintang
      A sling with ice may be used on an elbow sprain.
    • If a sling makes the elbow uncomfortable because it is bent, wrapping it to keep it straight may prove more comfortable.
      By: Vivian Seefeld
      If a sling makes the elbow uncomfortable because it is bent, wrapping it to keep it straight may prove more comfortable.
    • The elbow joint.
      By: Alila
      The elbow joint.
    • Ice packs reduce the pain and swelling of an elbow sprain.
      By: pixelrobot
      Ice packs reduce the pain and swelling of an elbow sprain.
    • An x-ray may be performed to determine the severity of an elbow injury.
      By: oddharmonic
      An x-ray may be performed to determine the severity of an elbow injury.