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Elbow Strain

An elbow strain is an injury to the elbow that occurs when the muscles or tendons that flex (bend) and extend (straighten) the elbow get stretched. An elbow strain may also be referred to as a “pulled muscle.”

Elbow Strain Hero Image 2

An elbow strain is an injury to the elbow that occurs when the muscles or tendons that flex (bend) and extend (straighten) the elbow get stretched. An elbow strain may also be referred to as a “pulled muscle.”

Elbow strain injuries are typically the result of the elbow moving beyond its limits (overextending), which causes minor tears of one or more of the muscles and/or tendons around the elbow.

A strain differs from a sprain because a strain involves the muscle and/or tendons, while a sprain involves the ligaments (the connective tissue that connects one end of a bone with another to provide stabilization of a joint).

What causes Elbow Strain?

An elbow strain occurs as the result of:

 

  • Repetitive use, like motions used in tennis and golf
  • An injury, such as a breaking a fall with an outstretched arm
  • Making a sudden movement when exercising without warming up properly

Elbow strain is common in these sports:

  • Basketball
  • Football
  • Golf
  • Rugby
  • Tennis
  • Volleyball

 

Symptoms

You may have an elbow strain if you experience one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Stiffness
  • Weakness

Symptoms may worsen with activity

When to see a doctor

If you have pain in the elbow area after an injury and you suspect that you may have an elbow strain, treat initially using the following steps:

  1. Rest the elbow
  2. Ice the affected area intermittently throughout the day

If you have symptoms of an elbow strain that worsen over time or that affect your range of motion and strength, make an appointment with an orthopedic specialist. During your appointment, your doctor will ask you to describe your symptoms and will examine your arm for range of motion, stability, and tenderness

Occasionally, to make sure you do not have a more serious injury, your doctor may order the following imaging tests:

  • X-rays
  • MRI

Non-operative treatment

Elbow strains are almost always treated using conservative, non-operative treatment methods, including:

  • Resting the arm
  • Icing the affected area
  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) to reduce inflammation
  • Physical therapy

Surgical Treatment

In rare cases, for example in the case of a severe  elbow strain or complete tear of the muscle, patients will need surgery to reattach the torn muscle.

Recovery

Elbow strains can heal within three to six weeks using conservative treatment methods. Athletes can return to play and normal activities when they have regained full range of motion of the arm and are free of pain

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