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Everyone has had a minor elbow injury. You may have bumped your "funny bone" at the back of your elbow, causing shooting numbness and pain. The funny-bone feeling can be intense, but it's not serious. It will go away on its own. Maybe your elbow has become sore after activity. Elbow injuries can be minor or serious. They may include symptoms such as pain, swelling, numbness, tingling, weakness, or decreased range of motion. Home treatment often can help relieve minor aches and pains.
Injuries are the most common cause of elbow pain. Some people may not recall having had a specific injury, especially if symptoms began slowly or during everyday activities.
Elbow injuries occur most often during:
Most elbow injuries in children occur during activities, such as sports or play, or are the result of accidental falls. The risk for injury is higher in contact sports such as wrestling, football, and soccer. The risk is also higher in high-speed sports such as biking, in-line skating, skiing, hockey, snowboarding, and skateboarding.
An elbow injury in a child or teen may injure the growing end (growth plate) of the upper arm bone. Any elbow injury that's worse than a minor bump, scrape, or bruise needs to be checked by a doctor.
Older adults have a higher risk for injuries and fractures. That's because they lose muscle mass and bone strength (osteoporosis) as they age. They also have more problems with vision and balance, which increase their risk for accidental injury.
An acute injury may be caused by a direct blow, penetrating injury, or fall. Or it can happen when you twist, jerk, jam, or bend an elbow in a way that isn't normal. Pain may be sudden and severe. Bruising and swelling may occur soon after the injury. Acute injuries include:
Overuse injuries occur when too much stress is placed on a joint or other tissue. This can happen when you overdo an activity or repeat an activity over and over. Overuse injuries include:
An infection of the elbow may cause pain, redness, swelling, warmth, fever, chills, pus, or swollen lymph nodes in the armpit on that side of your body. "Shooter's abscess" is an infection often seen in people who inject illegal drugs into the veins of their arms.
Elbow injuries such as bruises, burns, fractures, cuts, or punctures may be caused by abuse. Suspect possible abuse when an injury can't be explained or doesn't match the explanation, repeated injuries occur, or the explanations for the cause of the injury change.
Treatment for an elbow injury may include first aid and a brace, splint, or cast. It also may include physical therapy and medicines. In some cases, surgery is needed. Treatment depends on:
Many things can affect how your body responds to a symptom and what kind of care you may need. These include:
You have answered all the questions. Based on your answers, you may be able to take care of this problem at home.
Major trauma is any event that can cause very serious injury, such as:
With severe bleeding, any of these may be true:
With moderate bleeding, any of these may be true:
With mild bleeding, any of these may be true:
Symptoms of infection may include:
When an area turns blue, very pale, or cold, it can mean that there has been a sudden change in the blood supply to the area. This can be serious.
There are other reasons for color and temperature changes. Bruises often look blue. A limb may turn blue or pale if you leave it in one position for too long, but its normal color returns after you move it. What you are looking for is a change in how the area looks (it turns blue or pale) and feels (it becomes cold to the touch), and this change does not go away.
Pain in adults and older children
Pain in children under 3 years
It can be hard to tell how much pain a baby or toddler is in.
Pain in children 3 years and older
Certain health conditions and medicines weaken the immune system's ability to fight off infection and illness. Some examples in adults are:
Shock is a life-threatening condition that may quickly occur after a sudden illness or injury.
Adults and older children often have several symptoms of shock. These include:
Shock is a life-threatening condition that may occur quickly after a sudden illness or injury.
Babies and young children often have several symptoms of shock. These include:
Based on your answers, you need emergency care.
Call 911 or other emergency services now.
Put direct, steady pressure on the wound until help arrives. Keep the area raised if you can.
Sometimes people don't want to call 911. They may think that their symptoms aren't serious or that they can just get someone else to drive them. Or they might be concerned about the cost. But based on your answers, the safest and quickest way for you to get the care you need is to call 911 for medical transport to the hospital.
Based on your answers, you may need care right away. The problem is likely to get worse without medical care.
Based on your answers, you may need care soon. The problem probably will not get better without medical care.
Based on your answers, the problem may not improve without medical care.
Most minor elbow injuries will heal on their own, and home treatment is usually all that's needed. But if you think that you might have a more severe injury, use first aid until you can be seen by a doctor.
Try the following tips to help relieve elbow pain, swelling, and stiffness.
Remove rings, bracelets, watches, and any other jewelry that goes around the wrist or fingers of the injured arm. It will be hard to remove the jewelry after swelling starts.
It's important to rest and protect the injured or sore area. Stop, change, or take a break from any activity that may be causing your pain or soreness.
Put ice or a cold pack on your elbow for 10 to 20 minutes at a time. Try to do this every 1 to 2 hours for the next 3 days (when you are awake).
Compression, or wrapping the area with an elastic bandage (such as an Ace wrap), will help reduce swelling. Don't wrap it too tightly, because that can cause more swelling below the affected area. Loosen the bandage if it gets too tight. Signs that the bandage is too tight include numbness, tingling, increased pain, coolness, and swelling in the area below the bandage.
Try to keep the area at or above the level of your heart to help reduce swelling. Prop up the area on pillows while you apply ice and anytime you sit or lie down.
Wear a sling for the first 48 hours after the injury if it makes you more comfortable and supports the injured area.
Use an elbow support, such as an elbow sleeve or forearm wrap. It 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 directions on the package for using the brace.
After 2 or 3 days, you can try applying heat to the area that hurts. Apply heat for 10 to 20 minutes at a time, several times a day. You might also try switching between ice and heat.
Gently massage or rub the area to relieve pain and encourage blood flow. Don't massage the injured area if it causes pain.
MSA stands for movement, strength, and alternate activities.
Smoking slows healing because it decreases blood supply and delays tissue repair.
If you need to use a wrap or sling for more than 48 hours, you may have a more serious injury that needs to be checked by a doctor.
Most injuries are not caused by abuse. But bruises are often the first sign of possible abuse. Suspect physical abuse of a child or vulnerable adult when:
You may be able to prevent further injuries by reporting abuse. Seek help if:
Call a doctor if any of the following occur during self-care at home:
You can help your doctor diagnose and treat your condition by being prepared for your appointment.
Current as of:
July 18, 2023
Author: Healthwise StaffClinical Review Board: All Healthwise education is reviewed by a team that includes physicians, nurses, advanced practitioners, registered dieticians, and other healthcare professionals.
Current as of: July 18, 2023
Clinical Review Board:
All Healthwise education is reviewed by a team that includes physicians, nurses, advanced practitioners, registered dieticians, and other healthcare professionals.
To learn more about Healthwise, visit Healthwise.org.
© 1995-2023 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.
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