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
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
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
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
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
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.
Based on your answers, you may need care right away. The problem is likely to get worse without medical care.
Shock is a life-threatening condition that may occur quickly
after a sudden illness or injury.
Symptoms of shock in a child may include:
Based on your answers, you need
or other emergency services now.
Put direct, steady pressure on the
wound until help arrives. Keep the area raised if you can.
Certain health conditions and medicines weaken the immune system's ability to fight off infection and
illness. Some examples in adults are:
Pain in children under 3 years
It can be hard to tell how much pain a baby or toddler is in.
With severe bleeding, any of these may
With moderate bleeding, any of these may
With mild bleeding, any of these may be
Symptoms of infection may
You have answered all the questions. Based on your answers, you may be
able to take care of this problem at home.
Shock is a life-threatening condition that may quickly occur
after a sudden illness or injury.
Symptoms of shock (most of which will be present) include:
Major trauma is any event that can
cause very serious injury, such as:
Pain in children 3 years and older
Many things can affect how your body responds to a symptom and what kind
of care you may need. These 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.
Based on your answers, you may need care soon. The
problem probably will not get better without medical care.
Pain in adults and older children
Based on your answers, you need
Based on your answers, the problem may not improve without medical
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
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.
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.
Call your doctor if any of the following occur during home
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
February 18, 2013
William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
& H. Michael O'Connor, MD - Emergency Medicine
How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.
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