Elbows, who doesn’t love them! These simple joints help us to properly use our hands in virtually every action, from throwing a ball to playing on the guitar. Everyday use of the elbow is something we often take for granted until it’s injured. But how do you treat a sprained elbow? Here's how!
How a sprained elbow occurs
Whether it’s from throwing something too hard, one too many times, banging the elbow against a hard surface or just sleeping on it the wrong way (a sure sign you’re past your thirties), a sprained elbow can often put a stop to most of our daily activities, with pain to boot.
Before treating such an issue, it’s important to make sure you know the problem. Sprained elbows usually have some or all of the following symptoms:
- Mild to moderate pain in the elbow itself.
- Reduced range of motion, with bending and straightening difficult to do.
- Swelling, bruising and redness.
- A popping sound when moving the elbow, often accompanied by discomfort.
Most injuries affecting the elbow are minor to moderate sprains, however if you have increasingly severe pain, distinct swelling, loss of feeling in the arm, severe discolouration or complete immobility of the joint, seek immediate medical help as it may be a more serious injury.
Treating a sprained elbow
An elbow sprain occurs when the muscles in and around the joint become overstrained, leading to pain, inflammation, swelling and reduced mobility.
The principles of RICE (rest, ice, compress, elevate) are by far the most effective at treating these injuries.
However there are specific ways to apply each of the methods to get the best recovery for the elbow itself, both for treating now, and preventing it in the future.
Step 1: Rest
Resting the elbow joint is very similar to resting the shoulder. Even though it’s not used directly often, it’s indirectly involved in almost every movement of the hand.
For this reason, resting the elbow means avoiding use of the entire arm. Where possible, use the other hand, but put a bandage or wrap around your wrist to remind yourself of the injury when you go to use that hand.
Step 2: Ice
Icing the elbow itself is a great way to reduce swelling and inflammation, especially within the first few hours of injury.
However, using ice packs or a cold compress can help up to two weeks after a sprain in managing the symptoms.
Flexible ice packs can help here, but wearing a support like the EpiTrain that has in built gel supports can be put into the fridge beforehand and worn like a cold compress.
Step 3: Compress
Compression is one of the best ways to manage muscle pain and inflammation while speeding up the recovery process.
Using bandages or a sleeve can help to relieve these symptoms, however medical—grade compression has been clinically shown to be much more effective in this regard.
Step 4: Elevate
This method is primarily for injuries below the heart, but can still have its uses with the elbow.
When resting it, try and keep the elbow raised up on a higher arm rest or benchtop. This will help reduce inflammation and swelling, minimising pain and helping recover the joint, especially at the end of the day.
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