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Elbow Injuries

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Home Treatment

Most minor injuries will heal on their own, and home treatment is usually all that is needed to relieve your symptoms and promote healing. But if you suspect that you have a more severe injury, use first aid measures while you arrange for an evaluation by your doctor.

First aid for a suspected broken bone

  • If a bone is sticking out of your skin, do not try to push it back into your skin. It is better to leave the bone alone and cover the area with a clean bandage.
  • Control bleeding camera.gif from your injury.
  • Remove camera.gif all rings, bracelets, watches, or any other jewelry from the injured arm immediately. It may be hard to remove the jewelry if swelling occurs, which in turn can cause other serious problems, such as nerve compression or restricted blood flow.
  • Splint camera.gif your injured arm without trying to straighten it. Loosen the wrap around the splint if you develop signs that indicate the wrap is too tight, such as numbness, tingling, increased pain, swelling, or cool skin below the wrap. A problem called compartment syndrome can develop.

If a cast or splint is applied, it is important to keep it dry and to try to move the uninjured part of your arm as normally as possible to help maintain muscle strength and tone. Your doctor will give you instructions on how to care for your cast or splint.

Home treatment for a minor injury

Home treatment may help relieve pain, swelling, and stiffness.

  • Remove camera.gif all rings, bracelets, watches, or any other jewelry that goes around your wrist or fingers of the injured arm. It will be more difficult to remove the jewelry later if swelling increases.
  • Use rest, ice, compression, and elevation (RICE) to treat pain and swelling.
  • Wear a sling for the first 48 hours after the injury if it makes you more comfortable and supports the injured area. If you feel you need to use a sling for more than 48 hours, discuss your symptoms with your doctor.
  • An elbow support, such as an elbow sleeve, forearm wrap, or arm sling, may help rest your elbow joint, relieve stress on your forearm muscles, and protect your joint during activity. A counterforce brace may be helpful for tennis elbow symptoms. Follow the manufacturer's directions for using the brace.
  • Gently massage or rub the area to relieve pain and encourage blood flow. Do not massage the injured area if it causes pain.
  • For the first 48 hours after an injury, avoid things that might increase swelling, such as hot showers, hot tubs, hot packs, or alcoholic beverages.
  • After 48 to 72 hours, if swelling is gone, apply heat and begin gentle exercise with the aid of moist heat to help restore and maintain flexibility. Some experts recommend alternating between hot and cold treatments.
  • If applying ice to your elbow does not reduce the swelling, talk with your doctor about hydrocortisone gel treatments (phonophoresis) with a physical therapist.
  • Start exercises using the MSA process (gentle exercise). MSA stands for movement, strength, and alternate activities.
    • Movement. Resume a full range of motion as soon as possible after an injury. After 24 to 48 hours of rest, begin moving the injured area. Stop any activity if it causes pain, and give the injured area more rest. Gentle stretching will prevent the formation of scar tissue that may decrease movement.
    • Strength. Once the swelling is gone and range of motion is restored, begin gradual efforts to strengthen the injured area. Hand grip exercises can help you regain elbow strength. Using a small ball, such as an old tennis ball, squeeze the ball 20 to 25 times holding each squeeze for about 5 seconds. After 2 to 3 weeks of hand grip exercises, you may begin forearm exercises of extending or bending the elbow.
    • Alternate activities. After the first few days but while the injury is still healing, slowly add in regular exercise, such as activities or sports that do not place a strain on the injured area. If certain activities cause pain, stop doing those activities but continue doing your other exercises.
  • Do not smoke or use other tobacco products. Smoking slows healing because it decreases blood supply and delays tissue repair. For more information, see the topic Quitting Smoking.
Medicine you can buy without a prescription
Try a nonprescription medicine to help treat your fever or pain:

Talk to your child's doctor before switching back and forth between doses of acetaminophen and ibuprofen. When you switch between two medicines, there is a chance your child will get too much medicine.

Safety tips
Be sure to follow these safety tips when you use a nonprescription medicine:
  • Carefully read and follow all directions on the medicine bottle and box.
  • Do not take more than the recommended dose.
  • Do not take a medicine if you have had an allergic reaction to it in the past.
  • If you have been told to avoid a medicine, call your doctor before you take it.
  • If you are or could be pregnant, do not take any medicine other than acetaminophen unless your doctor has told you to.
  • Do not give aspirin to anyone younger than age 20 unless your doctor tells you to.
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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: February 18, 2013
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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