Sprain/Strain

All Important Details You Need to Know About Elbow Sprain

sprained elbow

Have you ever seen a sporting athlete or a friend experiencing a lot of pain in the elbow after a fall? Chances are that he or she has just experienced an elbow injury.

The most common reaction of a victim is holding the arm in a V-shaped manner while experiencing a lot of pain. But what is an elbow sprain? In this informative article, we are going to cover everything about an elbow injury.

What is an elbow sprain? 

According to Sports Injury Clinic, When one or more ligaments in the elbow joint are overstretched, it is possible that an elbow injury has occurred.

It is an injury that occurs on your elbow, causing your forearm muscles to spasm frequently. In case you press down on the forearm firmly, you will hear a cracking sensation or a cracking sound according to Healthline.

Elbow sprains are not common because when an injury causes two or more ligaments in the elbow to sprain, there is a considerable chance that you can disable your arm.

When the ligament is overstretched, it becomes tense, and its weakest point breaks especially in places where it attaches within the ligament, or to the bone. When the ligament pulls out a bone fragment, then it is referred to as an avulsion fracture according to Very Well Health.

There are three grades of an elbow strain: 

  • Grade I: a slight pull of the muscles on your forearm without any tear indication. You will have the same level of arm strength.
  • Grade II: you will have torn tendons or muscle fibers. You will also feel a noticeable reduction in the strength in your arm.
  • Grade III: muscle fibers which can only be repaired by a surgical procedure.

What is the difference between a sprain and a strain? 

According to Moms Team, A sprain is a tearing or stretching of the ligaments that connect two bones. On the other hand, a strain is a tearing or stretching of the muscle-tendon that connects the muscle to the bone.

What is the difference between an elbow sprain and an elbow fracture? 

Let’s imagine that you are playing football and then all of a sudden, you fall so hard with your arm stretched wide.

Unfortunately, you get a bad sore after getting a swollen elbow. Now you are not sure if you have a sprain or a fracture on your elbow.

In a sprain, you have either stretched something, or you have completely or partially torn a ligament. Swelling and pain are common signs of sprains. However, you can have a bruise on a sprain.

According to the American Society for Surgery of the Hand, Unlike a sprain, a fracture is a cracked or a broken bone. The fracture symptoms are usually unique, and they can vary depending on the bone that is broken.

What musculature is involved in an elbow sprain?

According to Encyclopedia Britannica, The soft tissues like the periosteum (covers the bone), the muscle, blood vessels and nerves, and the ligaments of the elbow joint are the body parts involved in an elbow sprain.

Symptoms of an elbow sprain 

  • The elbow may have some bruises or swelling as a result of several injuries around the inner elbow.
  • Pain may be experienced when bending the elbow flexion.
  • Immobility and pain may be felt by the victim when straightening the arm or bending the forearm away from the body.
  • Pain and tenderness when pressing the ligament located in the area where the pain is coming from.

Symptoms of the torn ligament in the elbow 

  • Pain is experienced when resisting an elbow bend.
  • Bruising and swelling are seen after a severe injury around the inner elbow.
  • Pain and tenderness on the ligament area.
  • Possible instability and pain when straightening the arm with the aim of bending it away from the body.

Diagnosis of an elbow sprain  

Physical Exam

For an elbow sprain, diagnosis is done in different stages. When you go to visit your physician, you will be asked questions about the symptoms you have, and how you have been experiencing them.

You will be asked about prior injuries in the area and the type of activities you usually undertake that profoundly affect the use of your arms.

Specific activities like swimming or construction work affect certain tendons, muscles, and ligaments in the elbow.

During the physical examination, your doctor will check if you can extend or bend your elbow, or make any movements with your forearm. Your neck, wrist or even shoulder will also be checked for injuries because they can cause some elbow pain. Do you know the causes of forearm pain?

You may be advised to undertake image testing to confirm if the physical tests are correct and to determine precisely the type of injury you have; whether it is a strain or a sprain.

Medical Exam

X- Rays

Your physician may recommend that you go for an X-ray to examine your elbow and eliminate any other cause of pain like a dislocation or a fracture.

An X-ray can also show if there is the presence of any abnormality or loose bone pieces in the bones that might be causing the symptoms.

Ultrasound

High-frequency sound waves are used in an ultrasound to produce images of ligaments and muscle tissues. The ultrasound will be used to check if there is any swelling which can be a sign of tendinitis according to Mayo Clinic.

If there is any small tear or ligament that is stretched, it will be revealed to help the doctor determine if you have been working too hard to the point of overusing your elbow.

According to the Department of Radiology of UC Davis Health, In case your doctor does not have an ultrasound machine in the office, you may be referred to a musculoskeletal radiologist.

MRI Scan

An MRI is a powerful electromagnetic machine that creates images of the body’s soft tissues. Deep soft body tissues or bones that cannot be visible using ultrasound can be detected with an MRI.

How a sprained elbow and wrist occur?

According to Teach Me Anatomy, One of the most common traumatic mechanism is falling on your hand while it is extended, and then it rotates even further.

When this happens, you can cause a sprain in the capsular structures. This will cause a lot of pain and swell in the wrist and elbow.

You will sometimes see lumps on the back of the wrist. To counter this kind of pain, place an ice bag, a bandage, or a brace for two weeks.

Afterward, you can go for local physiotherapy to recover your muscular tone-tropism and your range of motion.

How can I handle an elbow Sprain in a child? 

If a kid falls and tears the elbow ligaments, an elbow sprain may occur. Ligaments are tough tissues that connect bones.

When your child falls while doing chores or playing sports, it is possible to incur a sprain. Most sprains heal after some home care treatments.

As a parent, you need to ensure that you take your child to all appointments. It is important to know the results and any medications that the doctor prescribes.

What happens when a sprained elbow can’t straighten? 

A sprained elbow can have a lag in the range of motion. It is possible to find that the soft tissues of the elbow are not responsive to aggressive stretching.

When the range of motion is aggressive, it can cause inflammation to the elbow, and as usual, it will worsen.

For the ligaments in the elbow, they respond to soft, slower movements that are gentle enough to allow for stretching.

If it gets hard to stretch the elbow, try the following exercises:

  • Lie on the floor with your back as you face upwards and place your forearm on a pillow for it to rest with a little stretch. Ensure that your shoulder is grounded on the floor, and it is well supported.
  • For over fifteen minutes, let your elbow rest while it is extended. Press the forearm gently into the pillow for 10 seconds every minute by making triceps contractions.
  • Useless support under the forearm when your range starts to improve.
  • When applying too much stretch, ensure that you adjust the pillow for a more comfortable flexion.

Elbow sprain exercises

The following are some of the exercises that can be used to complement the recovery techniques during the recovery period:

  • Flex the arm fully as you keep it supported on your thighs.
  • Raise your injured arm over your head and extend it at the elbow.
  • Place the arm on the table and with the hand moving over the edge with the palm facing up, perform a full wrist curl. Do this step twice in a slow and controlled manner.
  • Do the above exercise again but do it with your palm facing down.
  • Place the arm on a desk or table, and move the wrist 10 times from left to right.
  • Using a bar that has a suspended weight on it (held with a string), wind the bar up and unwind it.
  • Take a rubber ball and squeeze it while you are having a chat with your friend or while watching Tv.

Additionally, you can watch the following YouTube video about Top 3 Elbow Straightening Exercises & Stretches you do it by yourself at home:

Foods that help heal sprains

Your body needs nutrients to maintain healthy ligaments and bones. The following type of nutrients helps to heal a sprain. But note that for a severe sprain, you need to go for surgery.

Magnesium

Food sources: nuts, green vegetables, and grains

Magnesium contributes to the makeup of the bone. It is used to control the nutrient levels like vitamin D, calcium, and potassium. For an adult, you need between 320-420 mg on a daily basis.

Calcium

Food sources: leafy green vegetables, whole grains, and dairy products

People who play sports or place huge demands on their skeletal tissue need calcium. According to the National Institute of Health. An adult requires between 1,000-1,200 mg of calcium every day

Phosphorous

Your body needs phosphorus as much as it needs calcium because the two minerals are part of the bone’s building block.

Phosphorous is also essential so that other minerals can be used properly, like vitamin D and magnesium. Fortunately, the same foods that provide calcium are the same foods that provide phosphorous.

Vitamin C

Food sources: vegetables, mostly fruits, green peppers, and citrus fruits

According to the National Institutes of Health, Vitamin C is required by your body to create collagen which is used to build the ligaments and tendons damaged by the elbow sprain. The human body requires between 75-95 mg a day.

Vitamin D

Food sources: some fish, milk, and eggs.

According to Dr. Weil, Minerals like phosphorous and calcium are absorbed by the body to repair your bones, thanks to vitamin D.

The body can also get some vitamin D from the sun. Most adults require 5mcg of vitamin D a day, although older adults require more than that past the age of 50 years.

Sprained elbow treatment

Several non-surgical treatment procedures can be applied to the elbow sprain.

Ice

You can place an ice pack for about 15-20 minutes a couple of times a day to reduce swelling and pain. If the elbow is excessively swollen, it may take several days to recover.

Painkiller medication

Creams and tablet can be applied on the skin area of the injury to relieve the pain.

Placement of elbow support

Placing a firm plaster, bandage, brace or sling can protect and restrict the movement of the elbow to ensure that it is comfortable enough to speed up recovery.

Although placing support is helpful, avoid limiting the movement of the elbow after two weeks to prevent any permanence of stiffness.

3 Types of Braces used for an elbow sprain recover

We are going to look at the three best elbow braces that you can purchase on Amazon:

Elbow compression support – Kunto Fitness product

The compression support sleeve by Kunto provides relief from any pressure that cuts across the elbow joint when playing golf, tennis.

It protects your elbow from joint inflammation and tendonitis. Thanks to the 4-way stretchable fabric blend, it will allow you to use your full range of motion.

The fabric is washable and breathable to wear all day every day even at night. Check the prices of Kunto Fitness Elbow Brace on Amazon.

Pros:

  • Comfortable and durable
  • Suitable for all activities
  • Breathable to reduce itching and sweating

Cons:

  • It is noticeable from a distance; it is not for those who want a discrete product.

Recovery Elbow Sleeve by copper compression

This sleeve has a high copper content that is great to counter inflammation. Copper is antimicrobial, meaning it reduces the risk of contracting the growth of bacteria and the production of odor.

This sleeve facilitates recovery and prevents injury by boosting the flow of blood. Since it is comfortable, it allows you to engage your full range of motion; you can also wear it all day. Check the prices of Copper Compression Recovery Elbow Sleeve on Amazon.

Pros:

  • It is stylish and discrete.
  • It allows your full range of motion.
  • It is hygienic.

Cons:

It does not provide enough compression if you have severe elbow sprain

Elbow Compression Sleeve by Nordic Lifting

This is a stylish compression sleeve that reduces that chances of getting elbow damage while at the same time providing sprain recovery.

This elbow compression is made of latex yarn and spandex to provide equal pressure around your elbow to help you to have enough blood circulation, heat, and relaxed muscles. Check the prices of  Elbow Compression Sleeve by Nordic Lifting on Amazon.

Pros:

  • The product has a one year warranty.
  • Prevents injury and promotes muscle recovery.
  • Supportive and durable.

Cons:

  • The sizing chart needs to be a little more accurate.

Surgical Treatment

According to NYU Langone Health, An elbow sprain does not require any surgical procedure. A combination of local treatments, supportive care, and physiotherapy can restore the full range of motion and build strength on the arm.

According to PHYSIOWORKS, Even when a patient has a grade three ligament tear, no surgical treatment is needed.

Bracing in a hinged brace may be required if the pain is still felt after several months or when the individual has high elbow function demands.

In sports like cricket or baseball, recurrent elbow ligament sprain are common. To address this issue, reconstruction of the ligament using a tendon graft can be done.

If there is any recurrent elbow dislocation, then expert evaluation is needed to determine the right course of action.

Is a torn ligament painful?

A torn ligament can cause numbness, pain, pressure and a tingling sensation because of the inflammation around the injury. Varying degrees of pain and discomfort can be felt due to a torn ligament.

The injury may cause extensive inflammation, production of heat, a cracking or popping sound, joint instability, severe pain and the inability to add pressure or weight on the joint because of the pain that can be felt.

Do torn ligaments heal on their own?

Ligament injuries are common mostly in athletes. Although some ligament injuries are minor and they can heal on their own within a couple of days or weeks, other serious injuries may require specialized treatment. But in both cases, provided you get the right care and recommendation, you will recover from a torn injury soon.

How long does it take for a sprained elbow to heal?

You may be required to wear a splint, a sling or a cast around your elbow for about 2-3 weeks to allow your elbow to heal.

Depending on the severity of the injury, you need to consult with a physiotherapist who will help you with strengthening and stretching exercises. In most cases, people recover completely after 4 weeks of a simple elbow sprain.

Can you see a sprain on an MRI?

In an MRI scan, radio waves and magnetic fields are used to create images of the tissue, muscles, and bones in the hand. An MRI Scan can show a ligament or tendon that is torn completely or partially.

Do damaged ligaments heal?

When you have damaged cells in your elbow, the rehabilitation time can be reduced by appropriate treatment. You can do this by protecting the injured part from any extra damage through resting, placing ice directly on the location of the injury, elevating the arm, compressing it, and any other form of medication.

How long does recovery take from a hyperextended elbow?

According to Healthline, Hyperextension elbow can take from a few days to several weeks, depending on the injury and the chosen method of treatment.

Most patients recover to gain full mobility of their arm after 2 to 3 weeks. In severe injuries, recovery can take up to several months. But with the help of prosthetics like braces, the recovery process can be reduced and managed.

Recovery of an elbow sprain

Mild elbow sprain injuries take between 1-2 weeks to recover, moderate injuries take 4-5 weeks, while severe injuries take up to 10 weeks for a complete recovery. Strengthening exercises are vital at this stage for the injured area to recover from swelling and pain, to reverse strength and flexibility.

It is essential that a medical consultation is done before and after exercise on the activities you need to avoid to avoid permanent damage.

How do you prevent elbow sprains?

Stretch before and after exercising or playing to warm up your muscles. Learn from professionals and in training sessions on how to use the right techniques for the type of sport you are playing.

According to Medscape, Before playing sports like golf that are prone to causing medial epicondylitis, you can try squeezing a tennis ball 5-10 minutes before the game time.

You can also do wrist curls using a lightweight dumbbell. You can do forearm exercises, stretch with a lightweight racket when you are preparing to play tennis, or wear a splint on your elbow as you play.

Am I at risk for an elbow sprain?

People who play competitive sports like basketball, football, or soccer have a higher chance of sustaining elbow sprain. Sports that involve a lot of hand throwing movements like baseball or javelin also have a high risk of causing an elbow sprain.

How do I know if I’ve sprained my elbow?

Below are some symptoms you need to look out for:

  • Severe pain in the elbow when the injury occurs.
  • A popping or tearing sound inside in the elbow.
  • Tenderness at the site of injury.
  • Swelling around the elbow.
  • Bruising after an elbow injury.

When to call for help

Call your doctor when you notice that after the remedies you have tried at home are not working and your pain is getting worse.

In case you also notice an increased swelling, your elbow is turning red, you have weakness and numbness on your hand, call your doctor.

It is important to keep a close eye on the changes you notice in your arm. Always seek the counsel of your doctor because it is not good when you feel pain after 2 weeks.

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