Elbow Sprain

An 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.

  • Causes

    Elbow sprains may be caused by:

    • Forced twisting of the arm
    • Falling on an outstretched arm
    • A blow to the elbow

  • Definition

    An 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.

    The Elbow
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  • Diagnosis

    The doctor will ask about your symptoms and how you injured your elbow. The doctor will examine your elbow to assess the stability of the joint and the severity of the injury.

    Imaging tests may include:

    • X-rays
    • MRI

    Elbow sprains are graded according to their severity:

    • Grade 1 — Some stretching with micro-tearing of ligament tissue
    • Grade 2 — Partial tearing of ligament tissue
    • Grade 3 — Complete tearing of ligament tissue

  • Prevention

    Elbow sprains may not always be preventable. There are steps you can take to reduce your chance of getting an elbow sprain. These include:

    • Wearing protective equipment and using proper technique while playing sports
    • Keep elbows and arms strong with regular exercises to absorb the energy of sudden physical stress

  • Risk Factors

    Factors 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

  • Symptoms

    Elbow 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

  • Treatment

    Treatment includes:

    • Brace or sling—You may need to wear a brace or sling to immobilize your elbow. Do not return to activities or sports until your doctor gives you permission to do so.
    • Rehabilitation exercises—Begin exercises to restore flexibility, range of motion, and strength in your elbow as recommended by your doctor or physical therapist.
    • Surgery—Surgery is rarely needed to repair a mild elbow sprain without instability or dysfunction.