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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 sensation can be intense, but it is not serious and will go away on its own. Maybe your elbow has become sore after activity. Elbow injuries can be minor or serious and 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 gradually or during everyday activities. To better understand elbow injuries, you may want to review the structure and function of the elbow. See a picture of the elbow.
Elbow injuries occur most commonly 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, or soccer, or high-speed sports such as biking, in-line skating, skiing, hockey, snowboarding, or skateboarding. Elbows, forearms, wrists, hands, and fingers are the most affected body areas. Any injury in a child or teen that occurs near a joint may injure the growing end (growth plate) of long bones and needs to be evaluated.
Older adults have a higher risk for injuries and fractures 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 by twisting, jerking, jamming, or bending an elbow abnormally. Pain may be sudden and severe. Bruising and swelling may develop soon after the injury. Acute injuries include:
Overuse injuries occur when too much stress is placed on a joint or other tissue, often by overdoing an activity or through repetition of an activity. 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 commonly 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 cannot be explained or does not 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 measures; application of a brace, splint, or cast; physical therapy; medicines; and in some cases, surgery. Treatment depends on:
Check your symptoms to decide if and when you should see a doctor.
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 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.
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 may help relieve pain, swelling, and stiffness.
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.
Be sure to follow these safety tips when you use a nonprescription medicine:
Call your doctor if any of the following occur during home treatment:
The following tips may prevent elbow problems or injuries.
Preventing falls will help you to avoid elbow injuries. To prevent falls:
Injuries such as bruises, burns, fractures, cuts, or punctures may be a sign of abuse. Suspect possible abuse when an injury cannot be explained or does not match the explanation, repeated injuries occur, or the explanations for the cause of the injury change. You may be able to prevent further abuse by reporting it and seeking help.
To prepare for your appointment, see the topic
Making the Most of Your Appointment.
You can help your doctor diagnose and treat your condition by being prepared to answer the following questions:
Current as of:
June 26, 2019
Author: Healthwise StaffMedical Review: William H. Blahd Jr. MD, FACEP - Emergency MedicineKathleen Romito MD - Family MedicineAdam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Current as of: June 26, 2019
William H. Blahd Jr. MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine & Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine & Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
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