5 Simple Exercises After an Elbow Sprain

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An elbow sprain is an elbow injury, usually resulting from some type of stress or trauma to the ligaments around the elbow joint.

Due to how often we use our elbow joint throughout the day, healing from elbow sprains can be a little challenging, but definitely do-able.

After learning more about what an elbow sprain is, we’ll break down 5 simple exercises you can perform while recovering from an elbow sprain.

Ligaments Injured with an Elbow Sprain

elbow anatomy


The elbow joint is a complex hinge joint formed by the connections between the humerus, (upper arm bone), radius and ulna (each is a forearm arm bone).

The elbow joint ligaments help to secure the joint capsule and prevent joint instability. Injury to any of these ligaments, usually from overstretching or a tear, is considered an elbow sprain.

The following are the elbow ligaments, all of which have potential to be involved in elbow sprains:

  • Ulnar collateral ligament
  • Radial collateral ligament
  • Annular ligament
  • Quadrate ligament

Elbow Sprain Symptoms

elbow sprain symptoms

So, how do you know if you’ve sprained your elbow?

An injured elbow from a sprain will be suspected if you demonstrate any or all of the following:

Elbow Sprain Treatment

Recommended treatments will depend on the severity of the sprain and the limitations you demonstrate.

Immediately After the Injury

elbow treatment immediately after the injury

In the initial phases of healing (within the first week) right after a sprained elbow has occurred, rest and support of the elbow is key.

Make sure to keep the sprained elbow elevated. To help pain and swelling, consider using either an elastic compression bandage or an elbow brace to support the elbow.

Ice will help to reduce swelling and control pain. You can ice up to 20 minutes at a time as often as needed throughout the day, but make sure to take at least a 30 minute break before starting to ice again.

If you have a mild sprain, and can tolerate it, try to practice gentle range of motion stretches at the elbow. This will involve gently bending and straightening the elbow.

Elbow Sprain Exercises

After the first 1-2 weeks of resting the affected elbow, as pain lessens, you’ll want to begin elbow exercises to help regain full function and use of the elbow.

While there are a variety of arms exercises that can recover from elbow sprains, we’ll key in on 5 simple elbow exercises that are very effective.

Tips

All of the following exercises can be performed either using a free weight (2-3#) or a resistance band (light, medium or heavy resistance), depending on what you have available at home.

If you have neither, then weighted objects, such as canned goods, can substitute as a weight. If you plan to use a resistance band, you can hold one end of the band in the working arm, and secure the opposite end under a foot.

If you’ve been using an elastic bandage or brace to support the elbow, see if you can perform these exercises without it. This will help provide greater muscle stimulation and make your muscles re-learn how to work on their own.

1. Bicep Curl

elbow sprain exercise: bicep curl step 1
elbow sprain exercise: bicep curl step 2
  • Begin seated with the elbow supported on a surface next to you (e.g., kitchen table).
  • Position the forearm so that it’s resting on the surface with the palm facing up.
  • Slowly bend the elbow, curling the forearm towards the upper arm, then return to your starting position.
  • Repeat 10-15 repetitions for 2-3 sets.

2. Hammer curl

hammer curl step 1
hammer curl step 2

It’s helpful to note that while a bicep curl and hammer curl are very similar, they each activate different portions of the biceps muscle. The hammer curl also targets the forearm muscles, such as the brachioradialis, better than the bicep curl does.

  • Begin positioned just like the bicep curl, only this time position the forearm and hand so that your thumb is facing the ceiling.
  • Slowly bend the elbow, curling the forearm towards the upper arm, then return to your starting position.
  • Repeat 10-15 repetitions for 2-3 sets.

3. Overhead Tricep extension

overhead tricep extension step 1
overhead tricep extension step 2

While an overhead tricep extension can be performed with a resistance band, it may be a little awkward to position with the band versus using a free weight.

  • Position yourself either standing or seared holding your free weight by your side.
  • Raise the arm overhead, with the elbow remaining in a bent position.
  •  Slowly, extend and straighten the elbow as far as you can, then return to the bent position (keep the arm overhead).
  • Repeat 10-15 repetitions for 2-3 sets.

If you find it challenging to keep the arm raised overhead for this exercise due to shoulder fatigue or any shoulder injuries, the video below will show you an alternative position. This position is just as effective as the overhead version, but a little easier on the shoulder.

4. Forearm Pronation

forearm pronation step 1
forearm pronation step 2
  • Begin seated in a chair with the elbow supported on a surface (e.g., kitchen table).
  • Position the forearm and wrist so that the thumb is facing the ceiling.
  • Slowly turn the forearm until the palm is facing down towards the surface, then return to your starting position.
  • Repeat 10-15 repetitions for 2-3 sets.

5. Forearm Supination

sprained elbow exercise: forearm supination
sprained elbow exercise: forearm supination
  • Begin positioned just like you were for forearm pronation.
  • This time, slowly turn the forearm until the palm is facing up towards the ceiling, then return to your starting position.
  • Repeat 10-15 repetitions for 2-3 sets.

As forearm pronation and supination are very similar and can be a little confusing to differentiate, in addition to the above images, be sure to check out the video below demonstrating the difference between the two.

Physical Examination by a Healthcare Expert

While the above initial treatments and exercises are helpful for more mild cases of elbow sprains with mild elbow pain present, if your symptoms are not improving after the first 1-2 weeks after they began, then you need to consult with your doctor.

If you’ve experienced a significant trauma, causing a high level of pain, then do not delay seeking medical attention immediately.

In cases where a serious trauma has occurred, while elbow sprains are a possibility, it’s important to ensure no other serious injuries have occurred.

Making the Right Diagnosis

A thorough physical examination will review your medical history, inform of any previous injuries, such as previous elbow sprains, and help to rule out other possible diagnoses, including the following:

  • Elbow dislocation
  • Presence of torn ligament
  • Elbow fracture
  • Elbow strain

The Severity of the Sprain

If a sprain is confirmed, then your doctor will also be able to assess the severity of it: mild sprain, moderate sprain, or severe elbow sprain.

The severity diagnosed will help in determining the best treatment method moving forward.

Physical Therapy

physical therapy for sprained elbow

For a mild to moderate type of sprain, your doctor will likely have you begin physical therapy or occupational therapy. Occupational or physical therapy will help with pain and swelling management, as well as get the injured limb moving again.

Besides exercise, rehab may also include techniques such as taping and manual therapy. Manual therapy, such as massage or trigger point release, is a great way to relax any sensitive or guarded areas of muscle.

Take a look at this video below that demonstrates an easy way to massage and release trigger points in the muscles of the forearm yourself at home.

While recovery time from a sprained elbow can vary, generally speaking, a mild sprain may take a few weeks (3-4) to recover, while a moderate severity may take 6-8 weeks to recover.

Surgery

It’s rare to require surgery for elbow sprains, but may be needed if a ligament has been torn or ruptured.

Surgery may involve repair of the torn ligaments and/or arthroscopic surgery, where the elbow hinge joint needs to be cleaned out.

Surgical recovery may take anywhere from 3-4 months or longer, depending on the type of surgery needed.

Treat Your Sprained Elbow the Right Way

treat your sprained elbow the right way

The most important thing to remember is don’t ignore your elbow pain. If it seems more mild, you can try to take care of it yourself at home. If it doesn’t improve though in 1-2 weeks, contact your doctor.

If you’ve suffered from a more obviously severe injury, get yourself checked out right away.

The sooner you address your injury, the faster your recovery will be.

FAQ:

Who can I see about an elbow sprain?

While you can consult with your primary care physician initially, an orthopedic specialist, who specializes in elbow injuries will be best.

Can I still use my arm while the elbow sprain is healing?

For mild sprains, yes. Try to use the arm as much as you can tolerate. You may be more limited with a moderate or severe sprain, and could even be required to wear a sling temporarily.

Can an elbow sprain heal on its own?

A mild sprain has greater potential to heal on its own versus a moderate or severe sprain however, if any symptoms from a mild sprain are not improving after 1-2 weeks of home care, then you need to see your doctor.

A moderate or severe sprain needs more immediate medical attention.

Wondering What's Next?

Discover 11 Easy, At-Home “Stretch Exercises” for Stronger, Pain-Free Joints (click below)

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