Elbow Contusion (Child)

A contusion is another word for a bruise. It’s when small blood vessels break open and leak some blood into the nearby area. Symptoms of a contusion often include black-and-blue color, swelling, and pain. It may take several hours for a deep bruise to show up. Contusions are often minor injuries.

Bony areas, such as the elbow, can easily be hit or bumped and cause a contusion. Pain may cause your child to not be able to move the elbow much. You’ll need to limit how much your child uses their elbow for a few days. Your child can move it regularly again when they are feeling better.

Contusions like these are treated using RICE. This stands for Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. A cold compress is put on the area. The elbow may need to be protected and held in place with a sling or elastic cloth wrap. Elevating the elbow above the heart can help ease swelling. Medicine can also help ease swelling and pain. If the injury is severe, your child may need an X-ray to check for broken bones.

A bruise may take several weeks to go away. Swelling should get better in a few days.

Home care

Follow these guidelines when caring for your child at home:

  • Your child’s healthcare provider may advise or prescribe medicines for pain and inflammation. Follow all instructions for giving these to your child.

  • Have your child rest the elbow.

  • Use cool compresses, cold packs, or ice packs to help ease swelling and pain. A cool compress is a clean cloth that’s damp with cold water. Use this on a baby or toddler. A cold pack is a gel pouch that is put in the freezer to chill. It’s then wrapped in a thin, dry cloth before use. An ice pack is ice in a plastic bag wrapped in a thin, dry cloth. Cold packs and ice packs are for older children. Apply one of these to the bruised area for up to 20 minutes. Repeat this every hour while your child is awake. Continue for 1 or 2 days or as instructed.

  • If the elbow has an elastic cloth wrap or a sling, follow all instructions for caring for these.

  • Have your child elevate the bruised elbow above the level of their heart as often as possible. This is to help reduce swelling.

    • A child 1 year and older can prop their elbow on a pillow while sitting or sleeping.

    • A baby younger than 12 months who is awake and observed can be placed on their side with the elbow up. If your baby falls asleep, move them to a flat, firm surface. Never use pillows for sleep or put your baby to sleep on their stomach or side. Babies younger than 12 months should sleep on a flat surface on their back. Don't use car seats, strollers, swings, baby carriers, or baby slings for sleep. If your baby falls asleep in one of these, move them to a flat, firm surface as soon as you can.

  • After stopping the use of cold on the area, start using warm compresses. A warm compress is a clean cloth that’s damp with warm water. Apply this to the area for 10 minutes, several times a day.

  • Follow any other instructions you were given.

  • Keep in mind that bruising may take several weeks to go away.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your child’s healthcare provider, or as advised.

Special note to parents

Healthcare providers are trained to see injuries such as this in young children as a sign of possible abuse. You may be asked questions about how your child was injured. Healthcare providers must, by law, ask you these questions. This is done to protect your child. Please try to be patient.

When to get medical advice

Call your child's healthcare provider right away if any of these occur:

  • Bruising gets worse

  • Pain or swelling doesn't get better, or gets worse

  • Pain doesn’t get better with medicine

  • Pain when stretching out hand or fingers

Call 911

Call 911 if any of these occur:

  • Loss of feeling in hand or fingers

  • Your child can’t move their hand or fingers

  • Hand gets cold or pale, or turns blue

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