How elbow sprain occurs
There are a number of tough cords surrounding the elbow joint with various functions.
The medial collateral ligament is one of them and can be found at the elbow joint, injury to this tough cord may cause an elbow sprain.
The condition is characterised by the instability of the elbow joint as a result of continuous damage to it. The instability may progressively become worse when treatment is not provided.
Individuals who are athletes and engage in sports which involve throwing or hitting objects such as volley ball or javelin may develop the injury.
These individuals usually experience pain at the time of injury and over time the tough cord becomes more damaged, overly stretched and may become torn.
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A ligament is a tough cord which joins one aspect of a bone to another bone. The medial collateral ligament joins the upper aspect of your arm bone to the inner aspect of one of the bones in your forearm.This cord assists in stabilising the elbow during active movements.
Whenever you throw or push a ball or an object away from your body, the tough cord ensures that you do not injure your elbow. This tough cord also prevents the sideways movement in the elbow when performing overhead movements.
The damage or injury occurs when the cord cannot withstand the amount of force placed on it during activities over a period of time hence leading to stretching or tearing of the cord.
The injury may be mild, moderate or severe. In mild cases, although there may be pain you would be able to perform activities without any restrictions.
You may also realise that after the activity there may be swelling and stiffness in the elbow joint at rest and this may be pronounced in the morning.
In severe instances, there is a complete tear in the cord, making the elbow joint unstable and unable to perform any movement. It is accompanied by severe pain and swelling, weakness in the arm and progressive stiffness in the elbow joint due to subsequent inactivity.
Causes of sprain
The condition may result when performing activities which may require a great deal of repetitive stress placed on the elbow. It may also occur when there is a sudden sideways movement in the elbow during overhead activities.
In individuals involved in sports activities which require a significant amount of throwing episodes, the tough cord is continuously stretched overtime causing an injury.
When you have a collision which involves the elbow causing it to bend awkwardly it may also result in an elbow sprain.
Signs and symptoms
There are a number of signs and symptoms which may arise from the condition
• You may realise that your elbow joint does not feel as stable as it used to be.
• There may be swelling around the elbow
• Presence of pain in the elbow during activities involving the affected elbow.
The pain is experienced in the inner aspect of the elbow joint. The individual may also complain of pain when the area of injury is touched.
The pain may seem to increase during activities of the elbow and subside mildly at rest.
• You may notice that your affected arm may not be as strong as the unaffected arm
• There may be tightness/stiffness in the affected elbow
• Some individuals may complain of numbness and a tingling sensation in the affected arm.
How is it diagnosed?
It is required that you undergo a complete examination and enquiries about the injury. It’s important to find out how the injury occurred and the period you’ve had the injury.
You may also be required to state any changes you’ve observed during the period of injury such as the presence or absence of any sound from the affected elbow whenever you perform a throw or having a feeling of instability in the elbow when performing overhead activities.
Investigations such as an x-ray may be conducted to rule out the presence of broken arm bones.
The writer is a Senior Physiotherapist at the 37 Military Hospital.