How do I Treat Elbow Swelling?

Erin J. Hill
Erin J. Hill
A cold compress will reduce swelling.
A cold compress will reduce swelling.

To determine the right treatment options for elbow swelling, you must first discover the cause of the swelling. A swollen elbow can be caused by any number of things, but most cases are caused by injury or illness related directly to the elbow. Most treatments for mild to moderate swelling include using ice or heat to ease the tendons around the area. Other treatments may include medication, wrapping the area with a bandage, or healing a more severe underlying cause for swelling.

Ice can reduce swelling of the elbow.
Ice can reduce swelling of the elbow.

Direct injury or overuse are the two most common causes of elbow swelling. If this is the cause of your discomfort, you may use an ice pack or heating pad to place over the area. Wrapping the elbow in a bandage and keeping it as still as possible may also help to alleviate swelling. Check the area often, and if the problem persists or is accompanied by severe or sharp pain, consult your doctor. You may have broken or seriously sprained the joint, and further treatment will be needed.

An allergic reaction can occasionally cause elbow swelling.
An allergic reaction can occasionally cause elbow swelling.

Occasionally an allergic reaction can cause swelling to the elbow. The most most common type of reaction would be caused by an insect bite or sting. Treatment for this type of elbow swelling will depend on how severe the reaction is. If you are only experiencing mild to moderate swelling, use an ice pack to bring it down and take a mild pain reliever. A swollen elbow accompanied by severe pain, shortness of breath, or dizziness should be treated as a medical emergency.

Trauma to the elbow may make it difficult to locate the brachial pulse.
Trauma to the elbow may make it difficult to locate the brachial pulse.

Insect bites accompanied by severe swelling, nausea, vomiting, and a discoloration around the bite may indicate that you have been bitten by a venomous insect or spider. The area may become purple or blue along with swelling, and eventually the elbow may become numb. Contact emergency personnel right away if you believe that your swelling may be associated with a venomous bite. Proper care can be taken to neutralize the venom.

Rarely, elbow swelling may be caused by heart or kidney problems.
Rarely, elbow swelling may be caused by heart or kidney problems.

Arthritis is another frequent cause of elbow swelling. In some cases, ice and wrapping of the area will be needed. Pain medication can be taken to alleviate any soreness or stiffness in the joints. If swelling persists after treatment, excess fluid may be built up around the elbow. A doctor may help in removing the fluid to allow the swelling to go down and for pain to ease.

Pain medication may be taken to alleviate soreness or stiffness in the elbow.
Pain medication may be taken to alleviate soreness or stiffness in the elbow.

In some very rare and severe cases, elbow swelling may be caused by a serious medical condition. Such conditions may include heart failure, renal failure, or a serious infection. If you have not recently injured your elbow and do not have arthritis or another disease affecting the joints, see your doctor right away. Additional tests may be run to discover the reason behind any persistent swelling, especially if accompanied by other symptoms.

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Discussion Comments

anon331990

I have exactly this following an insect bite when I was on holiday last week. I was visiting the doctor for an unrelated matter but she said this was actually rather serious and has prescribed antibiotics. I recommend seeking medical attention immediately!

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    • A cold compress will reduce swelling.
      A cold compress will reduce swelling.
    • Ice can reduce swelling of the elbow.
      Ice can reduce swelling of the elbow.
    • An allergic reaction can occasionally cause elbow swelling.
      An allergic reaction can occasionally cause elbow swelling.
    • Trauma to the elbow may make it difficult to locate the brachial pulse.
      Trauma to the elbow may make it difficult to locate the brachial pulse.
    • Rarely, elbow swelling may be caused by heart or kidney problems.
      Rarely, elbow swelling may be caused by heart or kidney problems.
    • Pain medication may be taken to alleviate soreness or stiffness in the elbow.
      Pain medication may be taken to alleviate soreness or stiffness in the elbow.
    • Wrapping an injured elbow in a bandage to immobilize it can help to reduce swelling.
      Wrapping an injured elbow in a bandage to immobilize it can help to reduce swelling.
    • An allergic reaction to an insect bite may result in elbow swelling and nausea.
      An allergic reaction to an insect bite may result in elbow swelling and nausea.