What is Sprained Elbow?

Ligaments are the band of tissues that connect bones to bones forming a joint. Similarly in the elbow joint, the upper arm bone connects with lower arm bone end with the help of ligaments. When sprain occurs, the ligaments get injured around a joint in which a ligament gets pulled or torn and this entire process is called Sprained Elbow.

A Sprained Elbow can occur when your arm quickly or suddenly gets bent or twisted in an uncomfortable or unnatural position. Sprained Elbow also occurs when there is an overload on ligaments’ regular movements. In short, a sprained elbow is an injury that damages at least one ligament of the elbow joint.

Sprained Elbow is the uncommon elbow injuries. Sprained Elbow that involves two or more ligaments cause more disability and damage comparatively than the sprain with single ligament damage. When the ligaments are overstretched they become tensed at their weakest point where attached to bone or ligaments itself. Elbow joint sprain can be reduced with rest and treated with long term strengthening exercises for athletic activity. Warm up before practice or competitions can help avoid unexpected elbow sprains.

What is Sprained Elbow?

Types of Sprained Elbow:

  1. Mild Sprain of the Elbow

    Mild elbow sprains manifest with the tearing of few ligament strands or fibres without any loss of function.

  2. Moderate Sprain of the Elbow

    Moderate elbow sprain manifest with the breach in a ligament’s portion with some loss of function

  3. Severe Sprain of the Elbow

    Severe elbow sprain manifest a serious and complete rupture of ligaments, separating the ligaments completely from the bones with complete loss of function associated with severe pain and swelling.

Causes of Sprained Elbow

Sprained Elbow can occur anytime when the arm gets twisted or bent to awkward or unnatural position. Elbow sprains also occur when there are overloaded movements on the ligaments repeatedly in an unnatural position. Common causes of sprained elbow are as follows:

  1. Twisting of arm in a forced manner
  2. Receiving a hit or blow on elbow joint can sprain the elbows
  3. Elbow sprain can also result from falling onto an outstretched arm
  4. Accidental twists of the elbow while playing sports can cause sprained elbow
  5. Overstretching or overuse of muscles
  6. Twisting of elbow muscles in an awkward position.

Usually people involved in more physical work such as manual labour, painting, playing games, plumbing, cutting woods, mechanics can be more prone to suffer from a sprained elbow due to the overuse of muscles and joints.

Symptoms of Sprained Elbow

Signs and symptoms of sprained elbow are quite clear and distinct. However, sprained elbow need immediate medical attention for avoiding any critical issues or conditions leading to permanent damage.

Common Symptoms of Sprained Elbow are

  1. Feeling consistent pain around elbow while moving the arm or elbow can be sign of elbow sprain.
  2. Swelling and bruising on the elbow region
  3. Limited movement of the arm
  4. Ache and tenderness while pressing the elbow region
  5. Redness and warmth around the sprained area of elbow
  6. A crackling or pooping sound inside the injured elbow region.

In severe cases of sprained elbow, the elbow joints might get damaged or broken along with sprain which needs quick and faster medical treatment. Bleeding and severe bruises are some of the serious symptoms in severe injury cases with complete loss of movement of the arm with extreme swelling.

Treatment for Sprained Elbow

The diagnosis of sprained elbow is usually done by physical examination taking enough information about the history of the injury. The doctor gets enough information about how the injury occurred and checks the stability and condition of the joint thoroughly. Doctors prescribe needed medications and injections according to the severity of the elbow sprain.

Doctors examine the sprained elbow and arrive at the treatment plan on the basis of severity of the sprain that are classified into 3 grades:

  1. Grade I Elbow Sprain- that includes micro tearing of the ligaments and tissues
  2. Grade II Elbow Sprain - that includes partial tearing of the ligaments and tissues with mild instability of the joint and arm
  3. Grade III Elbow Sprain - that includes complete or extreme tearing of the ligament tissues with no stability of the joint with loss of movement.

Doctors usually advise to take rest to allow the elbow sprain to heal. But to reduce swelling, inflammation and pain associated with elbow sprain, some medications that are commonly recommended are-

  1. Naproxen
  2. Aspirin
  3. Ibuprofen
  4. Acetaminophen.

However, to speed up the recovery process of sprained elbow and to give complete rest to the elbow joints, doctors recommend slings and casts to immobilize the elbow joints for 2-3 weeks. Sometimes surgery is also opted but rarely if the ligaments are completely damaged or torn.

How Long Does it Take to Recover From Sprained Elbow?

Recovery period or the healing time for sprained elbow depends on the severity of the injury. More you take care of the injury, faster it gets healed. The usual recovery time for sprained elbow is from couple of weeks to few months. Mild elbow sprains take usually one to two weeks to recover, moderate elbow sprains take 4-5 weeks to heal and severe elbow sprains may take 8-10 weeks for complete recovery. It is very important to perform strengthening exercises after recovery from pain and swelling to regain flexibility and strength of the arm and elbow following sprained elbow.

After recovering from sprained elbow, it is wise to consult your doctor before trying any physical activities, exercises and sports to avoid any internal injury leading to permanent damage. However, strengthening exercises and physiotherapy is always a good way to regain the muscles stability following elbow joint sprain.

Exercises for Sprained Elbow

There are many strengthening and relaxing exercises to regain the lost strength of the muscles and joints of your elbow to increase the flexibility and mobility of your arm following elbow joint sprain. Once the swelling, inflammation and pain associated with elbow joint sprain is treated completely strengthening exercises can be initiated such as forearm gripping exercises, squeezing putty, scrunching up a cloth or towel, extension and flexion exercises using dumbbells etc can help significantly in strengthening the muscles of your elbow.

Home Remedies for Sprained Elbow

The best home remedy for treating sprained elbow is R.I.C.E that is rest, ice, compression and elevation. Complete rest with ice packs applied frequently and by compressing the elbows by way of brace or splint can be effective in the treatment of sprained elbow. However effective home remedies for sprained elbow are—

  1. Home Remedy for Sprained Elbow Using Arnica Essential Oil

    This effective essential oil has anti-inflammatory property that reduces swelling as well as inflammation by treating pain associated with elbow joint sprain. Mix 2 tablespoon of arnica oil with 1 tablespoon of mustard oil and massage on the sprained elbow joint area by wrapping it with a bandage keeping it for 5 hours and repeat the remedy in every few hours.

  2. Turmeric

    Turmeric is a great pain reliever and an effective home remedy to treat swelling and pain associated with sprained elbow. It has anti-spasmodic and anti-inflammatory properties. Turmeric relaxes the muscles, tissues and joints by reducing swelling around the injured region. Mix two tablespoons of turmeric powder with one table spoon of lime juice and a little bit water to make a thick paste. Apply the paste over the sprain area and wrap it with a cotton bandage firmly and leave it for 10 hours and repeat this remedy in every 10 hours for best results.

  3. Epsom salt

    Epsom salt has soothing effect on joint pains and swellings. It also reduces inflammation effectively. Add two tablespoons of Epsom salt in a hot water tub or in your hot water bath tub to soak your sprained elbow joint to get some quick relief from irritating pain with this simple home remedy.

  4. Garlic

    Yet another effective home remedy for sprained elbow is Garlic which is known for its anti-inflammatory properties because it gives quick relief from pain and swelling. Take few cloves of garlic to extract some juice out of it and mix with 2 tablespoons of coconut oil to massage twice a day over the elbow joint sprain area for 30 minutes.

  5. Castor oil

    Castor oil has anti-inflammatory properties and also has power to alleviate pain associated with joint injuries. Take a piece of cotton with bandage with several layers to dip in castor oil and apply on the affected or injured area and wrap with plastic completely and firmly so that there will be no leakage of oil. Then apply hot water bottles or hot pads or hot air blower to give little warmth to the injured elbow.

  6. Cabbage leaves

    Take a fresh cabbage and peel the outer leaves of the cabbage in 2-3 layers and bruise them a little with rolling pins to take out its juice. Then wrap the leaves in a foil paper to warm it a little in an oven, put them directly on the elbow joint or sprained area and cover it with gauze bandage properly to retain its warmth and keep it on for 30 minutes. Repeat this remedy twice a day.

Written, Edited or Reviewed By:

, MD, FFARCSI

Last Modified On: June 22, 2016

Pain Assist Inc.

Pramod Kerkar
  Note: Information provided is not a substitute for physician, hospital or any form of medical care. Examination and Investigation is necessary for correct diagnosis.

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