Basketball Elbow Injury

Basketball Elbow Injury
Basketball Elbow Injury

With basketball season in full swing and nicer temperatures outside, it’s the perfect time to get on the courts and shoot some hoops. But whether you’re an amateur or a professional, there’s nothing like a basketball elbow injury to slow down your game. Although hand and upper extremity injuries are common on the basketball court, for many players, like Lebron James, elbows are always a concern. After suffering an injury back in 2017, James changed his shooting style to adjust for his elbow pain.

In today’s post, we’ll talk to Dr. Donnelly, hand, wrist and elbow specialist, about basketball elbow injuries and how to prevent and treat them.

James' basketball elbow injury

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Types of basketball elbow injuries

There are many reasons you might have elbow pain. Injury and repetitive use are responsible for some elbow injuries. If you fall on your elbow during a game, there’s very little padding on that joint to protect it. Elbow fractures can occur from direct blows to the olecranon, or cup-shaped part of the elbow. The repetitive motion from throwing balls can also cause wear and tear on the elbow. Common, repetitive use injuries include:

The most common causes of elbow pain are elbow tendonitis or elbow bursitis, also called olecranon bursitis. Elbow bursitis occurs when there is inflammation in the elbow bursa, which are thin sacs that provide cushioning for the bones and soft tissues. When you use your arm in a repetitive manner like throwing or dribbling the ball, you can pull or strain a muscle. The elbow will swell and fluid will collect in the bursa. If this happens, the muscle can tear.

While bursitis can affect any joint, the elbow is one of the most common places.

"Depending on the specific basketball elbow injury, symptoms could vary. Most elbow injuries, however, are characterized by pain and tenderness on the outside or inside of the elbow. "Brandon P. Donnelly, MD

Symptoms of a basketball elbow injury

Depending on the specific basketball elbow injury, symptoms could vary. Most elbow injuries, however, are characterized by pain and tenderness on the outside or inside of the elbow. 

  • Bruising
  • Swelling in your elbow
  • Pain, especially when you move your elbow
  • Difficulty picking up objects
  • Limited range of motion

Pain will usually increase when the elbow bends or rotates. Range of motion may be affected. There may be swelling or throbbing at the tip of the elbow.


If you have pain from a basketball elbow injury, Dr. Donnelly will start with a physical examination. He will discuss your medical history and overall health. He will examine your elbow, checking for lacerations and areas of tenderness. By checking your pulse, he can determine if there is adequate blood flow to the arm, hand and fingers.

Dr. Donnelly may order x-rays to determine if a fracture has occurred or if bones have been dislocated.  If additional imaging is need, a CT (Computed Tomography) scan or MRI may also be ordered.


The first approach to treating elbow injuries is to ice and rest the arm. Resting your elbow for several days after feeling pain is suggested. Elbow tendinitis and bursitis are treated initially with conservative treatments like these as well as NSAIDS and physical therapy.

A physical therapist will work with you to stretch and strengthen the muscles and tendons in your arm and elbow. Compression sleeves might be recommended as well.

If your pain is severe, Dr. Donnelly might recommend wearing a splint to immobilize the elbow, allowing it to fully heal.

How to prevent elbow injuries

One major way to prevent a basketball elbow injury is to be sure you warm up before playing. Because cold muscles are likely to be injured more often, stretching and warming them up is important. Wearing the right gear, like elbow supports, can also give you more stability.

You might also consider changing your shooting style, like LeBron James did. Using different body mechanics  may release some tension from the repetitive motion of the elbow.

Getting back in the game

Elbow pain doesn’t have to keep you on the bench. If you’ve hurt your elbow on the court, call Dr. Donnelly’s office to schedule an appointment . There are many treatment options available that should have you back in the game in no time.

This site is not intended to and does not provide medical advice, professional diagnosis, opinion, treatment or services to you or to any other individual. Through this website and links to other websites, Brandon P. Donnelly, MD provides general information for educational purposes only. The content provided in this website and links, is not a substitute for medical care or treatment. You should not use this information in place of a consultation or the advice of your healthcare provider. Brandon P. Donnelly, MD is not liable or responsible for any advice, course of treatment, diagnosis or any other information, services or product you obtain through this site.