A forceful impact directly to the elbow region can result in an elbow contusion, also referred to as a bruised elbow.
Not to be confused with the common funny bone complaint, where a hit to the ulnar nerve results in a strange tickling sensation, an elbow contusion can be a serious injury.
Bruised elbow symptoms may be extremely painful or just a mild ache, depending on the severity of the impact and the degree of the damage. Internal bleeding can cause visible bruising or discoloration of blue, yellow, and purple. Learn the signs and possible quick healing options of elbow contusion treatments.
What Causes Bruised Elbow (Elbow Contusion)?
While it is common to gently hit your elbow against a surface, there are three categories a major direct hit to the elbow will fall under to cause elbow contusion. This type of damage is seen with sports injuries, occupational injuries, and bicycle accidents. Whether it is caused by a hard fall from a bike accident or by a direct hit from a ball such as in football or a puck in hockey, an elbow contusion is usually the end result. Many cases involving occupational injuries appear among those working in the manual labor fields and in factories.
Bruised Elbow (Elbow Contusion) Symptoms
Obviously, when any body part suffers from a direct hit, pain follows. This is true with a bruised elbow, as most cases see excruciating pain shoot through the affected area. The pain level can indicate how severe the damage is with possibilities being a torn muscle, joint dislocation, a hairline fracture, or a complete breakage of the bone. Other elbow contusion symptoms may include:
- Discoloration and bruising of the elbow region with colors such as purple, yellow, and blue
- Touch sensitivity with tenderness at the site of impact
- Swelling of the elbow region
- Limited range of motion in elbow
- Pain with elbow movement
If any of the following symptoms arise at the time of impact or shortly thereafter, seek immediate medical advice.
- Pain that does not subside with treatment
- Swelling and inflammation at elbow region that does not decrease
- Increase in intensity and visibility for any symptoms
- Swelling of hands or fingers
- Blue discoloration or cold sensation in hand or fingers
- Inability to move wrist or fingers
Bruised Elbow (Elbow Contusion) Treatment
The treatment for elbow contusion is similar to that of other impact injuries. Diagnostic X-rays will confirm if a fracture, break, or torn ligaments are present. A bruised elbow treatment plan should include:
- Resting the elbow for proper healing
- Elevating the arm to reduce any bleeding and swelling
- Applying a compression bandage to the elbow to address swelling and bleeding
- Wearing a sling to prevent further injury to the elbow and for comfortable movement of arm
- Using ice therapy to treat inflammation and swelling
Pain relievers such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs may be necessary to address inflammation and pain.
Elbow Contusion (Bruised Elbow) Recovery Time and Exercise Tips
Elbow contusion recovery time in most cases covers a two-week span, with complete healing expected within four weeks. More serious injuries can take up to several months. Within the first two days, the swelling and any inflammation should dissipate with proper treatment. Many doctors recommend an exercise regimen to promote a quick recovery with positive results. The focus is to regain strength, flexibility, and normal movement of elbow.
You can begin the following stretching exercises within three days of the injury, once the swelling is down. Stretching exercises are performed to restore range of motion by promoting flexibility, as the muscles are stretched in a controlled way.
They should be completed three times each day until results are achieved. A physical therapist can evaluate the progress and recommend strength-building exercises with weight bearing moves. Once the range of motion is restored without pain, you can resume daily activities and sports play.
Start with the injured arm out straight in front of you. Bend and straighten the arm as far as possible without added pain. There should be a minor stretch only. Repeat 20 times or until pain begins to increase.
2. Forearm Rotations
With the affected arm at the side, bend the elbow to a right angle. Turn the palm of your hand face up and then down without increasing pain. You should feel minor-to-moderate stretch. Repeat 20 times with no increase in pain.
Place the injured elbow tip on a table edge and use the other hand to straighten the affected arm to the point where there is no additional pain. A moderate stretch is the goal. Repeat motion 20 times.
This stretch begins with the injured elbow on the tip of the table edge and the arm straightened. Use the other hand to bend the elbow without adding pain. There should be a moderate stretch. Repeat 20 times.
5. Biceps Stretches
Support the injured arm with the help of a table. Stand in front of the table with the arm around the back. Maintain the neck and back alignment as you slowly lower your body. Hold with a moderate stretch for 30 seconds and repeat the exercise four times each day.
6. Triceps Stretches
In the standing position, keep the neck and back aligned with the hand of the affected arm behind the lower neck and the other hand on the injured elbow. Slowly push the injured elbow back. You should feel a moderate stretch felt as the hand lowers on the back. Hold for 20 seconds without adding pain. Repeat three times each day.
A bruised elbow can occur in a split second, from the impact of a hard fall or a direct blow to the elbow. It is seen with sports injuries in hockey and football, cycling accidents, and with factory and manual laborers. Depending on the severity of the injury, excruciating pain is commonly the first symptom with bruising, swelling, and limited movement following. Treatment resembles other injuries with rest, ice, and arm support with pain relievers. Once strength and flexibility is achieved through exercises, normal activities can be enjoyed, as well as sports.
“Elbow Contusion,” Medical Treasure; http://medicaltreasure.com/elbow-contusion/, last accessed August 3, 2017.
“Bruised Elbow,” Sports Injury Clinic; http://www.sportsinjuryclinic.net/sport-injuries/elbow-pain/bruised-elbow, last accessed August 3, 2017.