If your elbow hurts, you might have an injury from overusing it. These types of injuries happen when you move your arm, wrist, or hand in the same way over and over. You might do that playing a sport, working at your job, or pursuing a hobby.
Your elbow also could be injured by a sudden blow or in a fall or other accident.
There are many specific things you can do to prevent elbow injuries.
Avoid Sports Injuries
No matter your sport, some general safety tips apply across the board for keeping your elbows safe:
- Stretch before and after you play or exercise to warm up your muscles.
- Take lessons to learn the right techniques for your sport.
Some sports pose a particular risk to your elbows because of certain movements.
Golf: People out on the courses a lot are prone to an injury called medial epicondylitis, or golfer’s elbow.
This is an inflammation of the tendons that attach your forearm muscles to your elbow joint. It’s caused by overuse -- repeating the same motion over and over. When you have this problem, the inside of your elbow hurts and is tender.
You can avoid golfer’s elbow by strengthening your forearm muscles. Some exercises to try:
- Squeeze an old tennis ball for 5 minutes at a time.
- Do wrist curls with a lightweight dumbbell.
- Do reverse wrist curls using a lightweight dumbbell.
- Do exercises to strengthen your forearm.
- Switch to a lightweight racket and increase the grip size.
- Wear a splint on your elbow while you play.
Baseball: Pitching can damage the ulnar collateral ligament in a young athlete’s elbow. It’s important to prevent this injury, because the ligament is hard to repair or rehab.
Experts have come up with guidelines on:
- How often young athletes should pitch
- How many pitches they should throw
- How often they should rest between outings
- A timetable for developing various pitches
Certain types of pitches place more strain on the elbow than others. If your child is a pitcher, make sure you know and follow the guidelines, which are available from youth baseball groups.
Other steps that will protect a young pitcher’s elbow include:
- Play other positions
- Don’t pitch for multiple teams
- Don’t pitch in pain
- Don’t pitch year-round
- Don’t use a radar gun -- focus on control and accuracy
- Don’t pitch on consecutive days
Prevent Work Injuries
If your job requires you to do the same motions over and over, you can take these steps to avoid injuries:
- Adjust your workstation to fit you, reducing the strain on your body
- Rotate tasks when possible, so that you are using different muscle groups
- Take breaks, whether it’s walking around every 20 minutes or just a microbreak, such as taking a moment to stretch
Repetitive motion isn’t the only way you can injure your elbow at work.
Leaning on your elbow too long on a hard surface, such as a desk, can cause bursitis, a painful swelling in the joint. And lifting a heavy briefcase can cause tennis elbow.
Here’s another tip to protect your elbows in the workplace: Store heavy items in a place where it’s easy to reach them.
Guard Against Falls
Falls can cause several types of elbow injuries, including:
Olecranon fracture: This is when the bone that sticks out if you bend your arm at a 90-degree angle is broken.
Distal humerus fracture: This is a break in the bone of your upper arm right where it meets the lower arm at the elbow. This can happen when the joint takes a direct hit or when you fall with your arm stretched out.
Biceps tendon tear: This happens when the tendons that attach the muscle in your upper arm to your elbow joint are damaged. This can happen when your arm is straight and absorbs force.
Dislocation: This happens when the bones of the forearm (the radius and ulna) move out of place compared with the bone of the upper arm (the humerus). The elbow joint, formed where these three bones meet, becomes dislocated.
You can reduce your chance of falling by taking simple precautions. These include:
- Be aware of medications and health conditions that can make you dizzy.
- Avoid high heels, flip flops, and shoes with slippery soles.
- Walking in your socks can increase your chance of slipping and falling.
- Make sure your home is free of hazards such as electrical cords across pathways, rugs you might trip over, and loose floorboards or carpets.
- Light your home well, including a lamp within reach of your bed for when you need to get up in the middle of the night.
- Add handrails to stairs and in bathrooms.
Building stronger bones can reduce your chance of breaking one if you do fall.
Things you can do to increase your bone strength include:
General Safety Tips
You can also reduce your odds of elbow injuries by making safe, healthy choices:
- When you’re in a car, always wear a seatbelt.
- If you drink alcohol, don’t drink too much.
- If sidewalks look slippery, walk in the grass for better traction.
- Slow down. Accidents are more likely to happen when you hurry.