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Elbow Sprain, Ambulatory Care

An elbow sprain

is caused by a stretched or torn ligament in the elbow joint. Ligaments are the strong tissues that connect bones. An elbow sprain is usually caused by a fall onto your outstretched arm or a direct hit to your elbow.

Common symptoms include the following:

  • Bruising or changes in skin color
  • Decreased arm movement
  • Pain and stiffness, especially with movement
  • Swelling and tenderness

Seek immediate care for the following symptoms:

  • Cold or numbness below the injury, such as in your hand or fingers
  • Increased pain, even after taking pain medicine
  • Bluish or pale skin of your injured arm

Treatment for an elbow sprain

may include a support device, such as a brace, sling, or splint. These devices limit movement and protect your joint. Treatment may also include pain medicine, physical therapy, or surgery if the ligament does not heal.

Care for an elbow sprain:

  • Rest your elbow for 1 to 2 days after your injury. This will help decrease the risk of more damage to your elbow. Avoid activities that cause pain. Return to normal activities as directed.
  • Apply ice on your elbow for 15 to 20 minutes every hour or as directed. Use an ice pack, or put crushed ice in a plastic bag. Cover it with a towel. Ice helps prevent tissue damage and decreases swelling and pain.
  • Use an elastic bandage to support your elbow and decrease swelling so it can heal. The elastic bandage should be snug but not tight. Follow instructions about how to apply your bandage.
  • Elevate your elbow above the level of your heart as often as you can. This will help decrease swelling and pain. Prop your arm on pillows or blankets to keep it elevated comfortably.
  • Exercise your elbow as directed to decrease stiffness and improve strength. You may be directed to exercise once you are able to move your arm without pain.

Prevent another elbow sprain:

  • Make sure you warm up and stretch before you exercise.
  • Do not exercise when you feel pain or you are tired.
  • Wear equipment to protect yourself when you play sports.
  • Stop exercising and playing sports if your symptoms from a past injury return.

Follow up with your healthcare provider as directed:

Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your visits.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2015 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

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