Tennis Elbow -- Symptoms and Treatments for Elbow Pain (Q&A)
How to Treat Elbow Inflammation
Elbow inflammation can make your daily life difficult but there are many options for treating it. Resting and elevating your arm and icing your elbow are the best ways to reduce swelling. Anti-inflammatory pain relievers can also be helpful. Contact your doctor if the inflammation persists more than a few days or gets worse by the day. They can diagnose the cause of the swelling and recommend more intensive treatments to help you recover as soon as possible.
Easing the Swelling
Elevate your arm to reduce the swelling.Aim to keep your arm elevated throughout the day. Prop your arm up on a cushion when sitting at a desk or table, particularly if you will be there for a long period of time. You should also prop it up when you are relaxing to help minimize the swelling.
- Ideally, your elbow should be raised above the level of your heart.
Ice your elbow 3-4 times a day.Wrap an ice pack in a cloth and apply it to your elbow. Hold it in place for 15-20 minutes to help reduce the swelling. Do this 3-4 times throughout the day until the swelling subsides.
- The cold from an ice pack can damage your skin if it is applied directly onto it without a cloth barrier.
Wrap a compression bandage around your elbow.Compressing the swollen area around your elbow will help to reduce inflammation. Wrap an elastic bandage or compression wrap around the affected area and secure it with a safety pin or medical tape. Remove the wrap if your arm begins to feel numb or sore.
- A compression wrap can be worn for several days until the swelling subsides.
- Compression bandages can be purchased from your local pharmacy. You can either purchase it as a wrap or as a “sock” that slides onto your arm over your hand.
Take ibuprofen or naproxen to reduce swelling.Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications will help to reduce your elbow inflammation. Take either ibuprofen or naproxen as recommended by your doctor until the swelling subsides. Do not exceed the dose recommended on the bottle or by your doctor or pharmacist.
- Note that acetaminophen will help ease the pain of an injured elbow but will not reduce the swelling.
Apply a topical NSAID 4 times a day as an alternative to oral pain relievers.Anti-inflammatory skin creams and gels can be effective in treating mild pain and inflammation. Apply a topical NSAID (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug) directly to your elbow and massage it into your skin gently. For the best results, do this 4 times throughout the day.
- Some topical NSAIDs can be purchased over-the-counter at your local pharmacy, while others require a prescription from your doctor.
- Topical NSAIDs should not be used to treat inflammation due to a fracture or torn tendon.
- Do not use topical NSAIDs if you have a history of ulcers or gastrointestinal bleeding since it is absorbed through the skin into the bloodstream.
- Discontinue using topical NSAIDs if you experience redness, irritation, stomach or esophageal pain, or rash.
Avoid strenuous activities that involve the affected arm.While you are suffering from elbow inflammation, it is important to rest your arm. Avoid doing any activities that will strain the affected muscles and tendons. This could include heavy lifting, strength-building exercises, household chores, assembly work, or other intensive activities.
- If you regularly carry out strenuous manual tasks at work, ask your employer if you can modify activities that may aggravate your elbow inflammation.
- You should also avoid leaning on your arm.
Seeking Medical Attention
Contact your doctor if the swelling does not improve after several days.If you can't reduce your elbow inflammation at home, you may require a more intensive treatment. Contact your doctor if the swelling or pain in your elbow increases quickly, or if there is no change in the swelling after several days. Your elbow inflammation may be due to a serious injury such as a sprain or broken bone.
- Your doctor can diagnose whether your elbow inflammation is due to a one-time injury, wear and tear, or a disease like arthritis.
- Your doctor may perform blood tests or an ultrasound scan or X-ray to determine the cause of your elbow inflammation.
- Swelling may also be due to an infection, which your doctor will likely prescribe antibiotics for.
Ask your doctor about physiotherapy or physical therapy to treat persistent inflammation.A physiotherapist may use massage or other manual therapy techniques to treat your elbow inflammation while physical therapy will be more exercise-based. They can also teach you arm exercises to encourage blood flow to the area, relieve stiffness, and strengthen your muscles. Ask your doctor if physiotherapy is a good treatment option for you.
- Your doctor can refer you to a physiotherapist in your area.
- Do not attempt rehabilitation exercises for your elbow without the recommendation of your doctor or physiotherapist.
Inquire about steroid injections for short-term relief.Steroid injections can be given directly to the affected area of your elbow to reduce the swelling and treat pain. Ask your doctor if this treatment option would be right for you. The results of this treatment are short-term, but the procedure can be performed up to 3 times in 3-6 month intervals.
- Your doctor may give you a local anesthetic before the procedure to numb the area.
Make sure there is no fluid buildup in your arm.Ask your doctor if your elbow inflammation may be due to an excess of fluid around the affected area. If so, they may opt to drain the fluid with a needle and syringe. This should remove pressure and reduce swelling around your elbow.
- After the procedure, you should wear a compression bandage to prevent fluid from building up again.
Discuss surgery as a last option if you have had elbow inflammation for 6-12 months.Your doctor may recommend surgery if you have tried non-invasive treatment methods for more than 6 months without results. Ask your doctor if removing damaged tissue in your arm could improve your condition. Discuss the various surgical options you may have, and what your recovery would entail.
- Rehabilitation exercises are a crucial part of recovery from elbow surgery.
- Surgery may involve one large incision or several small incisions, depending on your specific injury.
- Your doctor may recommend that you wear an elbow brace for several weeks while your arm heals from surgery.
- You may be required to wear a sling and a cast or splint if you have sprained or severely injured your elbow.
- Most people recover from an elbow sprain in about 4 weeks.
- Note that elbow inflammation can last for weeks, months, or even up to a year while injured tendons heal.
- Take time to warm up your muscles before exercising or playing sports to prevent injury.
- Wear a support wrap around your elbow for added comfort.
- Increasing the strength of your forearm muscles can help to prevent injury.
- Prolonged elbow inflammation may cause you to compensate by putting pressure on other joints, causing further injury.
- In some cases, prolonged elbow inflammation may indicate the presence of a tumor in the joint structure. Ask your doctor to check when you go in for a visit.
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