Swollen elbows are typically caused by any form of injury to the joint or neighboring soft tissues including the muscles, ligaments and tendons. It is important to note that these injuries include tendinitis, tennis elbow and bursitis. The application of ice, compression and anti-inflammatory medications are the commonly used remedies for elbow injuries and swelling. It is vital to consult a doctor for persistent swelling and pain.
What are the causes?
Engaging in repetitive activities in sports such as golf and tennis can lead to the development of elbow joint injuries, thus resulting to swelling and pain. Tennis elbow involves inflammation of the soft tissues on the exterior of the elbow while golfer’s elbow involves swelling of the soft tissues on the exterior of the elbow.
As for elbow tendinitis, the tendons surrounding the elbow such as the biceps tendon becomes swollen and deteriorates. Additional causes of a swollen elbow joint include bruises, fractures and bursitis or inflammation of the bursa sac.
The initial line of defense against swelling is getting enough rest. The individual should avoid sore and irritating activities such as tennis and golf to help minimize the swelling and prevent recurrence. In case minor elbow movements can cause pain, it is recommended to use a sling to help reduce the swelling and pain. In addition, rest can also promote the healing process. The time frame of the rest period is based on the type and severity of the injury.
Application of ice and compression
Application of ice and compression are highly effective in managing the swelling especially when combined with rest. Apply an ice pack over the elbow joint since this causes vasoconstriction or narrowing of the blood vessels. This can help manage the inflammatory response of the body as well as minimizing the swelling. Ice can be applied 3-4 times a day at 20-minute intervals.
Compression is applied by wrapping the mid-forearm up to the upper arm or shoulder with an elastic wrap. The elastic wrap should be worn throughout the day to push out the current swelling and prevent it from accumulating.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen are taken orally to minimize the swelling. These medications work by preventing certain chemicals such as cyclooxygenase from being released during the inflammatory response. Once these chemicals are limited, the swelling is reduced.
Anti-inflammatory drugs can cause stomach upset and must be taken with food. In case the individual is taking other medications such as blood pressure medications, a doctor should be consulted before taking any anti-inflammatory drugs.
Corticosteroid injections also inhibit the release of chemicals during the inflammatory response, thus minimizing the swelling that occurs. One main benefit of using corticosteroid injections is that it is injected directly into the injured and swollen elbow joint, thus preventing nausea and stomach upset.
Even though these injections will not cause nausea, they can trigger pain at the injection site as well as infection and even delayed healing. In addition, corticosteroid injections were no more effective than non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs in managing elbow tendinitis.
Physical therapists utilize various modalities such as electrical stimulation and ultrasound to minimize the swelling and promote the healing process. Other remedies include activity modification, massage and compression cuffs that perform pumping action around the elbow to minimize the swelling. Engaging in exercises and stretches later during the physical therapy can help prevent further elbow joint injuries and swelling.