How to treat your injured elbow

Following injury, your elbow may be swollen, bruised and painful. In order to help the natural healing process, follow the advice below.

During the first 3 days

  • It is important to rest at this stage to prevent further swelling. You may have been given a sling to support the arm. If this is uncomfortable on your neck, then remove the sling when sitting and support the arm comfortably on a pillow.
  • Keep your neck shoulder, wrist and hand moving. These joints are not injured but will stiffen if not kept mobile. Support your elbow and lift your arm gently up over your head.
  • To relieve pain and swelling, apply a packet of frozen peas or crushed ice in a damp towel to the injured area. For maximum effect, apply for up to 20 minutes, every 2 hours. Cold can burn, so remove if uncomfortable.
  • As the pain begins to settle you can begin to gently move the elbow. Movements should be performed slowly moving into mild discomfort but short of pain.

After 3 days

  • If you have not already started to gently move your elbow, then it is now essential that you do so, to avoid future stiffness.

The exercises below can be repeated hourly though the day. Regaining full extension (straightening) of the elbow is important. Work up to this gradually, doing the exercises little and often will help.

  1. Rest your elbow in the palm of the opposite hand, slowly bend and straighten your elbow as far as possible.
    Repeat up to 10 times.
  2. Tuck your elbow into your side, turn your hand palm up then palm down. Move in each direction as far as possible.
    Repeat up to 10 times.

As each day goes by, you should be able to move the arm more freely and you can gradually discard your sling. As well as exercising your elbow, check that your neck, shoulder, wrist and hand are not stiff.

As soon as possible, resume light activities, but in the first weeks you should avoid carrying heavy objects, or doing anything that forces the elbow into a straight position. As the arm feels more comfortable, gradually build up to heavier activities.

For those returning to sport, swimming is good exercise. However, do not return to racquet or contact sports until your elbow is free of pain, supple and strong

This leaflet gives general advice only. Depending on how severely your elbow is injured, it may take between 6 - 8 weeks for you to regain full movement. Full elbow straightening is often slower to return than elbow bending and in some cases may always remain restricted.

© North Bristol NHS Trust. This edition published April 2024. Review due April 2027. NBT002260.

How to treat your injured elbow

Contact Emergency Department (ED)

Gate 35, Level 0
Brunel building
Southmead Hospital
Southmead Road
BS10 5NB

Emergency Department Main Reception Gate 35: 0117 4145100 or 0117 4145101