Therapeutic Injections for Elbow Sprains & Strains

If pain caused by an elbow sprain or strain isn’t relieved with rest, ice, and compression, your NYU Langone orthopaedist may recommend an injection of anti-inflammatory medications or a modified sample of your own blood to aid in healing.

These injections may help you recover more quickly by reducing inflammation in the tissue of the elbow. Sometimes, our doctors recommend these injections in conjunction with physical or occupational therapy. By relieving pain, an injection may make therapy more effective.

Doctors at NYU Langone’s Center for Musculoskeletal Care may administer these injections in their offices. They may use X-ray or ultrasound imaging to guide the medication precisely into the elbow joint. This helps ensure maximum effect.

Sometimes, our doctors use platelet-rich plasma to treat people with elbow sprains or strains. This experimental treatment may relieve pain and encourage healing. Though the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved this therapy to manage elbow sprains and strains, doctors consider it safe and effective for some people. Your doctor discusses with you whether you are a candidate for these injections.

Corticosteroid Injection

To reduce inflammation and ease pain, your doctor may recommend injections of corticosteroids. These powerful anti-inflammatory medications can provide long-lasting relief when injected directly into the elbow joint.

Doctors usually inject a small amount of anesthetic into the elbow along with corticosteroids to provide immediate, but temporary, pain relief. The corticosteroid begins to reduce inflammation and pain levels two to three days after the injection. It stays active in the body for up to 10 days but can provide relief for 3 to 6 months.

You may return home or to work immediately after the injection. Your doctor may recommend applying ice to your elbow for 15 minutes, 2 to 3 times per day, for as long as needed or taking an over-the-counter medication, such as ibuprofen, to relieve pain and reduce swelling.

Doctors typically determine whether to recommend additional corticosteroid injections depending on how your body responds to the first treatment. If used too often, corticosteroids can cause side effects, such as a weakening of soft tissue.

Because corticosteroids can also increase blood sugar levels, they may not be appropriate for people with diabetes or other metabolic conditions.

Platelet-Rich Plasma Injection

If corticosteroid injections don’t provide pain relief, your doctor may inject platelet-rich plasma. These injections are composed of blood cells called platelets, which your doctor removes from your body. Platelets release substances called growth factors, which stimulate healing of injured tissue.

In this procedure, a small amount of blood is taken from a vein in your arm. A machine called a centrifuge separates the platelets and growth factors from the blood, creating platelet-rich plasma. This process takes 15 minutes in the doctor’s office.

The doctor then uses ultrasound to guide the injection of platelet-rich plasma into the injured elbow.

After an injection, people typically experience pain relief and improved elbow function within two to six weeks. During this time, your doctor may recommend avoiding strenuous activities involving the elbow to allow the injured tissue to heal.

Doctors advise avoiding anti-inflammatory medications, such as ibuprofen, for two to four weeks after a platelet-rich plasma injection. This is because these medications can inhibit healing while the plasma works to stimulate the body’s own anti-inflammatory response. Instead, your doctor may recommend that you take acetaminophen and apply an ice pack to the area for 15 minutes, 3 times a day.

After the initial recovery time, your doctor may recommend an additional platelet-rich plasma injection, depending on the extent of the injury and the success of the first injection.

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