So, you’ve injured your elbow and you’d like to know how long it will take for your injury to heal. First of all, don’t beat yourself up too hard. Elbow injuries are pretty common, and almost everyone has had at least a minor injury or pain in their elbows.
Accidents are inevitable and pain can only make one stronger, but it is knowledge that gives one power. So read up, arm yourself with information and you can elbow your way out of pain soon.
What causes elbow injuries
First, we’ll be clear that we are only discussing elbow injuries here and not elbow pain in general. Most elbow injuries are caused by repetitive strain from athletic activities, which then will result in an elbow injury. Other forms of elbow overuse can also be the reason behind elbow injuries.
Elbow injuries from repetitive strain
Repetitive elbow injuries happen when an activity or movement is repeated over and over and with very little rest time in between. Rest is important as it allows our bodies to heal. This is especially important in elbows because as simple as it seems, elbow movement requires cooperation from many parts.
Our elbows are a fluid-filled joint with many functions such as moving our hands toward and away from our body, forearm rotation, flexing and many more.
For any elbow movement type to happen, our elbow joints, cartilage, ligaments and fluid need to be in shape and functioning properly. Overusing the elbows can result in elbow strain, which is the one of the most common forms of elbow injury.
How can our elbows be injured from overuse?
We use our elbows every day of our lives, from small tasks such as typing away on a keyboard or flexing our muscles at the gym. The functions of our elbows can sometimes be overlooked, but we can easily overuse them without us realizing it.
Overuse from sporting activities
Strain and inflammation can be the result of repetitive movement in the elbow. This can inflame and strain the tendons and ligaments in the elbow. This is especially common in activities where elbows need to bear weight or involve exerting a force to counteract another force such as swinging a club, throwing or hitting a ball or even pushing against water when swimming.
Elbows can also be overused from sports that involve throwing like football and baseball.
Having said that, other sports that are also known to injure elbows from overuse are martial arts, golf, tennis, weight lifting, bowling and many more.
Overuse from work
You don’t need to be an athlete to overuse your elbows. Some types of work, especially those that require repeated motions using the elbows, can also cause strain. These types of work include:
- Industrial work, such as auto repair, building, construction, home repairs and renovations
- Office work involving prolonged periods using the mouse or keyboard
- House painting
- Restaurant work – food preparation, carrying plates and dishes, butchery and knife work
Overuse from housework or hobbies
A fair disclaimer: We do not condone using these to attempt to wiggle your way out of house chores as this could result in injuries that are far worse.
Certain chores, when done excessively and in the wrong way, can also cause elbow strain:
- Scrubbing and vacuuming
- Knitting or crocheting
- Yard work like digging, shovelling snow, raking leaves, etc.
- Playing a musical instrument like the guitar, bass or cello
Other common types of elbow injuries
Here are other types of elbow injuries that can occur:
- Tendonitis – This occurs when sudden trauma or repetitive activities cause inflammation and pain in elbow usage and movement.
- Tendonosis – This is a type of degeneration (breakdown) of tendons, normally caused by ageing.
- Tennis elbow – This is also referred to as lateral epicondylitis, which happens when injury is sustained by the outer elbow tendon.
- Golfer’s elbow – This is also known as medial epicondylitis and it occurs when the injury is sustained by the inner elbow tendon.
Symptoms of elbow injuries
There may be plenty of types of elbow injuries, but their symptoms are commonly:
- Weakness in forearm
- Pain from the elbow that spreads two ways: up towards the upper arm or down in the forearm towards the wrists
- Difficulty with activities that require arm strength or elbow movement
- Pain that either suddenly begins or worsens over time
How long does elbow injury take time to heal?
Ah, the golden question. When you give your elbows plenty of rest and you follow proper treatment, you can be totally symptom free in 6–12 weeks. We cannot further stress the importance of giving your injured elbow a rest (in other words, do not engage in chores or sports immediately, even if you feel improvement). If you increase your activity in the elbow or try to get back to your normal activities too soon, you will injure yourself again.
Treatment for elbow injuries and pain
First of all, we urge you to get your elbow checked by an orthopedic doctor (bone doctor), most especially if your elbow pain does not improve even with rest and ice therapy from home.
If you are experiencing severe pain, swelling and bruising around the elbow, you must have your arm checked by a medical professional.
The RICE method
As a first aid treatment to your elbow, we recommend the tried and trusted RICE method:
Rest – Immediately stop any activity that puts strain or pressure on your elbow. Rest your affected elbow and try not to put weight on it.
Ice – Ice is your best friend when it comes to injuries, especially in the first 48 hours. Ice therapy or cryotherapy is essential in preventing swelling in your elbow. Using an ice pack (or a makeshift ice pack or ice bag), ice your elbow for 15–20 minutes, three or four times a day until swelling subsides.
For elbow injuries, we highly recommend an elbow ice pack with professional wrap. First of all, these ice packs are flexible when frozen. This means that there is no need to wait for them to defrost, and most of all, it will contour comfortably around your elbow. The last thing you need when you have an elbow injury is discomfort when applying treatment.
Compression – The pressure from application of compression also reduces the chances of swelling in an injury. You can do this using elastic bandages, or you can work smarter by using an elbow ice pack like this one, which comes with adjustable professional straps. Not only will this keep the ice pack in place, but it can also act as a compression sleeve.
Elevate – To prevent further swelling in your injured elbow, keep the elbow rested above or equal to heart level. You can easily do this by propping your elbow up with pillows as an armrest.
Using over-the-counter medication
In some cases, when the pain is hard to bear, you can take over-the-counter drugs such as ibuprofen, naproxen or acetaminophen (Tylenol) for pain relief. Please consult a doctor before taking this.
With proper rest and treatment, you will surely be back at work or play with healthy elbows.
We hope this information has helped you learn more about your elbow injury. If you have questions about managing pain in your elbows, please send us a message!