Elbow problems are normally the result of an injury from sport or due to repetitive movements of the elbow. Problems on the outside of your elbow are often called tennis elbow and on the inside, golfers elbow. Elbow problems should settle within six weeks of following this advice.

elbow lateral2

Rest or Move

Should I be resting or moving?

For the first 24 to 48 hours

  • Try to rest your elbow but avoid long spells of not moving at all.
  • Try to move your elbow gently for 10 to 20 seconds every hour when you are awake.

After 48 hours

  • You should try to use your arm more.
  • Do whatever you normally would and stay at, or return to work. This is important and is the best way to get better.
  • Avoid sports or heavy lifting until you have less discomfort and good movement.
  • Exercise really helps your elbow and can relieve pain.

Painkillers

Should I take painkillers?

  • Painkillers can help you keep moving. However, it is important that if you are already taking medication for something else or have other health problems you check with the pharmacist at your local chemist before taking painkillers for your elbow problem.
  • You can use simple, over-the-counter painkillers (such as paracetamol) or anti-inflammatory medicines (such as ibuprofen) to help your pain. You can take both these medicines together.
  • Always follow the instructions on the packet.
  • You can only take two 500mg paracetamol every four to six hours, and no more than eight 500mg paracetamol in 24 hours. You should not take any more than this amount.
  • You can only take three 400mg ibuprofen a day. You should not take ibuprofen if you have stomach problems such as ulcers, have had a previous allergic reaction to ibuprofen or an injury in the last 48 hours. Always take ibuprofen with or just after food. Don't take ibuprofen if you are pregnant.
  • If you have asthma, ibuprofen may make it worse, but if you have taken it before with no problems then you can safely take it again. If you are not sure, speak to your pharmacist.
  • Take them regularly, not just when you are sore, for the next three to four days only.
  • If you feel you still need pain relief after four days then speak to your pharmacist for advice.

Should I use ice or a heat pad?

  • If you have had an injury or a flare-up of an old problem in the last two days, wrap crushed ice in a damp towel and hold it for five to ten minutes against the part of your elbow that hurts. You can do this every two to three hours. Make sure you use a damp towel between the ice and the skin to avoid an ice burn.
  • Alternatively, you could try sports sprays and gel packs, which do a similar job.
  • After two days, you may find that heat is more relaxing. You could use a heat pad or a hot water bottle with an insulated cover on it. Make sure this is not too hot and not directly touching your skin. You should do this for 10 to 15 minutes, three to four times a day.

Work

You will recover faster and everybody will benefit if you can stay at or get back to work as early as possible. Don’t worry if your elbow still hurts, as you may only have to do light work at first. Try to stay active and remember to keep moving. Speak to your manager about any concerns you may have.

Sports

You should take time before you take part in any sports after an elbow problem. If you take part in sports too soon you could flare things up again. You should have no swelling and have full movement of your elbow. You should have full or close to full strength. Remember to stretch and warm up fully before sports.

Other Problems

Can my elbow problem cause trouble anywhere else?

You may feel some pain or altered feeling and/or sensation in the muscles around your elbow and down to your wrist. These should improve, as your elbow problem gets better.

Doctor

Do I need to see my doctor?

  • Not normally. If you follow the right advice and take the right medication, your elbow problem should improve over the next six weeks.

If you experience a sudden onset of any of the following you either need to attend A&E or contact NHS111 as soon as possible.

  • Unable to move your elbow.
  • Heat and swelling around your elbow.

If your condition progressively worsens or persists for longer than 6 weeks you need to seek further medical advice.