Symptoms Of A Sprained Elbow: How Do You Diagnose And Treat It?

Sprain in elbow is always a painful condition which often requires a healthcare professional’s help. Though not as common as ankle sprain, sprain in elbow occurs when the elbow ligaments are overstretched violently or they are torn.

Ligaments are tissue bands that provide stability to the joint by keeping bones connected to each other. The weakest point of ligament is usually affected. It is often near the bone where it attaches itself. Falling in awkward position, people playing contact sports such as football, basket ball, or throwing sports such as javelin throw, short put are at greater risk of suffering from sprained elbow.

Rest, ice fomentation, compression and elevation are the initial treatment measures. It may take few weeks or months for healing of sprained elbow.

Sprained elbow is categorized into three types; mild, moderate and severe.

  • In mild variety, the few ligament fibers have microscopic tears. Patient is able to fold his hand or extend it.
  • In moderate form, a segment of ligament is ruptured. The function of elbow joint is partially lost.
  • The third and most severe form consists of complete rupture and detachment of ligament from the bone. Patient is in agony and unable to move his elbow joint.

Sprained Elbow Symptoms

Sprain in elbow can be acute and sudden in onset or it can be chronic due to repetitive injury to the ligament.

  • There is excruciating pain in the elbow joint.
  • Swelling in elbow immediately after sprain.
  • If the blow or injury is severe, the patient feels popping sound inside his elbow.
  • Patient is unable to move his hand and there is loss of function in moderate and severe elbow sprain.
  • In case of mild sprain, patient can perform limited elbow movement.
  • The skin area becomes bruised, red and warm.

How To Diagnose Sprained Elbow?

Diagnosis of elbow sprain is done by the health care professional. The doctor will assess the swelling and pain in elbow after taking proper history of the patient.

He may advise X-ray of the elbow joint. When the injury is severe with total loss of function, he may also consider MRI of elbow joint.

After complete assessment he will plan the treatment.

How To Treat A Sprained Elbow?

The initial treatment consists of R.I.C.E. (rest, ice fomentation, compression and elevation).

  • Patient should give complete rest to the affected arm. This he can do by wearing a sling.  Resting the arm in sling allows the weight to shift on neck and the shoulder. The intention is to immobilize the arm.
  • Ice fomentation in the early stage helps to reduce swelling and pain. Wrap few ice cubes in a clean cloth and apply it to the affected area. Keep it for 10 minutes and then take a break for one hour before resuming it again. Do it for first five to six hours than at the interval of 8 hours for 2 days.
  • Compression bandage around the elbow provides support. It also helps in reducing the swelling. Compression bandage should not be warped too tightly as it will hamper the circulation of blood.
  •  If possible the arm should be kept in elevated position.
  • Painkillers and anti-inflammatory medicines may be necessary.

Once the pain and swelling is reduced, patient may be encouraged to perform rehabilitating exercises. The goal is to restore the strength and range of motion to the elbow joint. However, the time of exercise is decided by the treating doctor.

In rare condition, surgery may be required to repair the torn ligament.

The healing time may depend from person to person, but average healing period for mild sprain is 2 to 3 weeks. For severe sprain the healing period may be as long as 2 to 3 months.