Elbow Sprain Treatment

What is it and how is it treated?

Elbow sprains are common sports injuries, although you can also sprain your elbow during a fall or automobile accident. Sprains occur when a ligament overstretches and tears, causing pain and swelling. 

Sprains are graded according to the severity of the injury.

  • Grade I – mild sprain with slight stretching and damage to your ligament fibers
  • Grade II – moderate sprain with partial ligament tears causing looseness in the joint
  • Grade III – severe sprain with a complete tear of the ligament and instability

About the elbow joint

Your elbow joint is a hinge consisting of your humerus (the upper arm bone), the ulna (the larger lower arm bone on the side of your little finger), and the radius (the smaller lower arm bone on the thumb-side of your arm. 

Soft tissues, including your ligaments, tendons, and muscles, hold your elbow joint together and allow you to move it.

Ligaments connect your bones, and you have several in your elbow, including the medial collateral ligament (on the inside of your elbow) and the lateral collateral ligament (on the outside of your elbow). 

The annular ligament wraps around the head of your radius and holds it securely against your ulna. The ulnar lateral ligament connects your humerus to your ulna.

The tendons in your elbow connect your bicep, tricep, and wrist extensors (forearm muscles) to the elbow bones.

Causes of elbow sprains

Elbow sprains can be either an acute or repetitive use injury. They occur when the ligament is overstretched or forcefully twisted in an abnormal direction.

You could sprain your elbow if you fall or from repetitive movements. For example, ulnar lateral ligament sprains are common injuries for pitchers. In addition to baseball and other throwing sports like javelin or shot put, elbow sprains are also common in football, wrestling, gymnastics, and skiing.

What does a sprained elbow feel like?

When you sprain your elbow, you might hear or feel a pop and have immediate pain in your elbow. Repetitive use injuries develop gradually, and your elbow pain might begin with specific movements before progressing to constant pain. 

Bruising emerges and your injured elbow swells, reddens, and stiffens. You may have difficulty bending or straightening your elbow. Your affected elbow might feel loose or unstable, depending on the severity of your injury.

How painful is a sprained elbow?

Elbow sprain pain varies depending on the severity of your elbow sprain. For example, a severe elbow sprain with torn ligaments is much more painful than milder elbow sprains.

You should make an appointment with the expert orthopedic surgeons at OrthoNeuro in Columbus, Ohio, if you have severe elbow pain, can’t extend or bend your elbow fully, have joint instability, or know that you’ve injured your elbow during a sports (or any other type of) accident.

How do you know if the elbow is sprained or broken?

Elbow injuries, including sprains, strains, and fractures, cause similar symptoms. The best way to get an accurate diagnosis of your elbow injury is to call your doctor at OrthoNeuro and schedule an appointment to assess your damage. 

After reviewing details about your elbow sprain, medical history, and lifestyle, our orthopedic surgeons complete a comprehensive physical exam, which may include X-rays, MRIs, and other diagnostic tests.

How do you know if you tore a ligament in your elbow?

Our doctors use imaging studies and other tests to evaluate the severity of your elbow sprain and tissue damage. They can identify torn ligaments and grade your elbow sprain correctly. 

Understanding the severity of your elbow sprain helps your doctor determine the best way to control pain and heal your elbow joint.

How are elbow sprains treated?

Our doctors create tailored treatment programs for elbow sprains. Depending on the severity of your elbow sprain, your doctor may recommend treatment options such as:


RICE stands for rest, ice, compression, and elevation. This is a typical first step for many minor orthopedic injuries. Your doctor may wrap your elbow in an elastic bandage to provide compression and stability. They may also give you a sling or splint to keep your affected arm still and secure.

In addition to using compression to immobilize your elbow and facilitate rest, you can apply an ice pack to the affected area several times a day and keep your arm elevated to decrease swelling and pain.

It can take between a few weeks or up to three months for your joint to fully heal. Avoid lifting and follow your doctor’s orders to avoid re-injuring your elbow.

Arthroscopic surgery

If you have a severe sprain, you might require surgery to repair ligament and tissue damage. Arthroscopic surgery is a minimally invasive surgical technique that uses an arthroscope to “see” inside a joint. 

An arthroscope is a thin surgical tube with a light and a camera on its tip. Your surgeon inserts it through a small incision, and it sends video from inside your joint to a monitor in the treatment room. 

Then your surgeon can use other thin surgical instruments that fit through tiny incisions to complete the surgery while seeing the inside of your joint on the screen.

Physical therapy

Physical therapy combines a therapeutic exercise program with stretching and other treatments to restore your elbow’s strength and flexibility. Your therapist may implement physical therapy to help reduce pain and strengthen the muscles around your joint to increase stability.

Our goal is to help you recover quickly and safely so you can return to your regular activities and physical activity while minimizing your risk of hurting yourself again.

Call OrthoNeuro in Columbus, Ohio, today or schedule a consultation online if you think you have a sprained elbow and need expert treatment.

Make an Appointment with an OrthoNeuro Specialist Today! 

  • If you have been experiencing the symptoms of an elbow fracture, schedule an appointment with one of our Board Certified Orthopedic and Sports Medicine Specialists at one of our 7 convenient locations throughout Greater Columbus. 
  • We will evaluate your unique lifestyle and goals to determine which type of treatment is best for you. 
  • Best of all, most patients can be seen within 24 hours of making an appointment.
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Meet Our Elbow Specialists

Desmond J. Stutzman, DO

Orthopedic Hand & Elbow Surgeon

James C. Cassandra, DO

Orthopedic Hand and Elbow Surgeon

Gary M. Millard, DO

Orthopedic Hand & Elbow Surgeon

Scott P. Stephens. MD

Orthopedic Shoulder & Elbow Surgeon

Benjamin W. Szerlip, DO

Orthopedic Shoulder & Elbow Surgeon

Elbow Pain Stops Here.

Get started today with a comprehensive treatment plan.

Call: (614) 890-6555