An elbow sprain is stretching or tearing of the ligaments that stabilize the elbow. Ligaments are strong bands of tissue that cross joints and connect bones to each other.

The Elbow

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Elbow sprains may be caused by:

  • Forced twisting of the arm
  • Falling on an outstretched arm
  • A blow to the elbow
  • Risk Factors

    Factors that may increase your risk of an elbow sprain include:

  • Playing certain sports, such as gymnastics or baseball
  • Poor coordination
  • Poor balance
  • Inadequate flexibility and strength in muscles and ligaments
  • Loose joints or connective tissue disorders
  • Symptoms

    Elbow sprain may cause:

  • Pain, tenderness, and swelling around the elbow
  • Redness, warmth, or bruising around the elbow
  • Limited ability to move the elbow
  • Pain when moving the elbow
  • Diagnosis

    You will be asked about your symptoms and how you injured your elbow. Your elbow will be examined to assess the stability of the joint and the severity of the injury.

    Imaging tests may include:

  • X-rays
  • MRI scan
  • Elbow sprains are graded according to their severity:

  • Grade 1—Some stretching with micro-tearing of ligament tissue.
  • Grade 2—Partial tearing of ligament tissue.
  • Grade 3—Complete tearing of ligament tissue.
  • Treatment

    Treatment includes:

    Acute Care

    Acute care may involve:

  • Resting the elbow
  • Avoiding activities that cause pain or put stress on the elbow
  • Icing the elbow to reduce swelling and discomfort
  • Using over-the-counter, topical, or prescription pain relievers
  • Pain Relief Medications

    To manage pain, your doctor may advise:

  • Over-the-counter medication, such as aspirin, ibuprofen, or acetaminophen
  • Topical pain medication—creams or patches that are applied to the skin
  • Prescription pain relievers
  • Note: Aspirin is not recommended for children with a current or recent viral infection. Check with your doctor before giving your child aspirin.


    Extra support may be needed to help protect, support, and keep your elbow in line while it heals. Supportive steps may include:

  • Wearing a brace or sling
  • Rehabilitation exercises advised by your doctor or physical therapist
  • Surgery in some cases
  • Prevention

    Elbow sprains may not always be preventable. There are steps you can take to reduce your chance of getting an elbow sprain. These include:

  • Wearing protective equipment and using proper technique while playing sports
  • Keeping elbows and arms strong with regular exercises to absorb the energy of sudden physical stress