A bruised elbow, also referred to as an elbow contusion, is an injury to the soft tissue that covers the elbow.
The injury damages some blood vessels, causing them to bleed. When this happens, blood collects under the skin, resulting in the discoloration known as a bruise.
Bruises can range in color, including:
The most common cause of a bruised elbow is some sort of direct blow to the elbow. Example scenarios include:
- impact during sports
- impact in the workplace
- fist fight
Most impacts strong enough to bruise the elbow cause an instant sharp pain, whether it’s from a fall from a bicycle, a hit from a baseball, or a run-in with a doorknob.
Following the pain at inception, other symptoms of an elbow injury include:
Pain with elbow movement isn’t an unusual symptom, but if the pain is severe when you attempt to bend or straighten your elbow, it might indicate a fracture.
There are a few ways to treat bruising. As soon as possible after the injury to your elbow, follow these steps:
- Rest. Avoid physical activity as well as actions that use the arm with the injured elbow.
- Elevation. Keep the arm and elbow raised at a level above your heart.
- Cold. Apply ice (10 minutes on, 10 minutes off) for the first 24 to 48 hours following the injury, as needed.
- Compression. To minimize swelling, wrap the elbow snuggly with an elastic bandage. Don’t wrap it too tightly.
- Pain relief. If needed, over-the-counter acetaminophen (Tylenol), or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil), and naproxen (Aleve), are appropriate.
- Protection. Stay away from situations that could further injure your elbow.
- Sling. After a few days of rest, consider wearing a sling to minimize movement.
Treating the elbow as soon as possible following the injury typically speeds up recovery time.
Natural treatments for a bruised elbow
Natural treatments for a bruised elbow include avoiding some foods, consuming other foods, and taking certain supplements.
Although advocated by natural healers and others, these practices aren’t necessarily based on proven clinical research.
Foods to avoid:
- alcohol, to avoid blood thinning
- refined sugar, to avoid inflammation and calcium excretion
- processed foods, to avoid sodium, chemical dyes, and chemical preservatives
Foods to consume:
- fruit, especially with vitamin C
- greens, especially dark, leafy greens like kale that have a lot of vitamin K
- cultured dairy, such as yogurt or buttermilk
Supplements to take:
- lysine, for calcium absorption and tissue regeneration
- boron, for elbow bone health and healing
- bromelain, for protein absorption and healing
Proponents of home remedies also suggest making a poultice of comfrey or St. John’s wort and applying it externally to the elbow.
In most cases, the swelling reduces — and you will probably feel better — after a couple of days. It typically takes two to four weeks for a bruised elbow to completely heal (and that can depend on how much stress you put on the elbow during the recovery period).
If the pain doesn’t go away in a few days, check with your doctor, who might want to take an X-ray to see if there’s evidence of a fracture.
If you have injured your elbow and the pain is severe when you try to bend or straighten your elbow, see a doctor immediately. It might indicate a fracture.
If you have a bruised elbow with manageable pain, chances are you’ll feel better within a few days with appropriate home treatment.
The elbow should be fully healed in a few weeks. But if the pain hasn’t subsided after a few days, see a doctor to determine if the injury is something more serious.