Your elbow is a hinged joint made up of 3 bones: your upper arm bone (humerus) and the two bones in your forearm (ulna and radius). Muscles, ligaments, and tendons hold the elbow joint together, to form the joint capsule- a fluid filled sac that surrounds and lubricates the joint.
The muscles in your forearm cross the elbow and attach to the humerus. The bony bump on the outside (lateral side) of the elbow is called the lateral epicondyle, while the bump on the inside of your arm is called the medial epicondyle.
The important ligaments of the elbow consist of the medial collateral ligament (on the inside of the elbow) and the lateral collateral ligament (on the outside of the elbow). These ligaments work together to stabilise the elbow, holding the humerus, radius and ulna tightly together. Another ligament called the annular ligament holds the radial head tightly against the ulna.
The tendons in your elbow attach muscle to bone. The biceps tendon attaches the biceps muscle on the front of your arm, and the triceps tendon attaches the triceps muscle to the back of your arm.
The arm consists of nerves that travel down and move across the elbow. There are three main nerves: the radial nerve, the ulnar nerve and the medial nerve. These nerves are responsible for controlling your muscles and sensations, such as touch, pain and temperature.
WHAT IS AN ELBOW SPRAIN?
Elbow sprains occur when ligaments surrounding the elbow joint are injured (a pull or tear). This can happen when the arm is quickly bent or twisted forcibly. Ligaments in your elbow work together to stabilise the elbow, holding the humerus, radius and ulna tightly together. Any injury to these ligaments will cause immense pain and your motion will be limited.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF AN ELBOW SPRAIN
Symptoms of an elbow sprain include:
- Difficulty bending and straightening your elbow
- Elbow pain with movement
- Elbow pain and swelling
- Inflammation, redness, and bruising
- Popping sound can be heard with movement of the elbow
WHAT ARE THE CAUSES AND RISK FACTORS OF AN ELBOW SPRAIN
Causes of an elbow sprain include:
- High impact blow to your elbow, such as during a motor vehicle accident
- Falling onto an outstretched elbow
- Sporting activities that involve the elbow
WHAT IS THE DIAGNOSIS OF AN ELBOW SPRAIN?
A history of the injury and a physical examination of the elbow will be conducted by the Doctor. Imaging tests will be taken, such as an x-ray for the doctor to examine if any fractures of the elbow are present, and an MRI scan to see how badly the ligaments around the elbow have been torn or stretched.
WHAT ARE THE TREATMENT OPTIONS FOR AN ELBOW SPRAIN?
Most people who suffer from an elbow sprain are able to recover with nonsurgical treatments. Nonsurgical treatment options include:
- RICE therapy (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) for pain relief and reduction in swelling
- Medications for pain relief such as acetaminophen and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen to reduce pain and swelling
- Wearing a sling to keep your elbow in place, or in some cases a cast or splint if your sprain is severe
- Physiotherapy to improve muscle strength via strengthening exercises
Should your sprain result in severe ligament damage where nonsurgical treatment is ineffective, surgery may be recommended.
HOW CAN I PREVENT AN ELBOW SPRAIN?
Although an elbow injury cannot be prevented, there are some measures we can take to reduce our risks:
- Regular exercise to improve muscle strength
- Use appropriate equipment for sporting activities
- Do your warm-ups and stretches before participating in any sporting activities
- Having a healthy diet