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Elbow Pain

Elbow pain can be a frustrating and debilitating condition that affects people of all ages and activity levels. It can make even simple tasks like getting dressed or lifting objects difficult, and can severely impact a person's quality of life. There are many different causes of elbow pain, ranging from overuse injuries to fractures and dislocations. In this article, we will explore some of the most common causes of elbow pain and their associated symptoms, as well as discuss some of the most effective treatments for alleviating elbow pain and restoring function to the joint. Whether you are an athlete dealing with a sports-related injury or simply someone experiencing chronic elbow pain, this article will provide you with the information you need to understand your condition and find relief.

My Elbow Hurts When I Bend and Straighten It: What Gives?

Elbow pain can cause difficulty when getting dressed, cooking, lifting and of course when playing racket sports. Because the elbow is a complex joint, made up of bones, muscles, ligaments (connecting the bones) and tendons (connecting muscles to bone), it isn’t always easy to determine what is causing elbow pain. Some of the most common causes for elbow pain are:

1. Tendonitis

When the tendons in the elbow become inflamed, most often due to repetitive or overuse, the result is tendonitis. Tendonitis can cause pain that radiates from the elbow up the arm or down the arm, depending on which of the two tendons are affected. 

2. Tennis Elbow and Golfer’s Elbow

These conditions are also a form of tendonitis, resulting from overuse of the tendons in the arm. Tennis elbow is a result of inflammation of the outer arm, while Golfer’s elbow results in pain along the inner arm. These conditions are not restricted to those who play golf or tennis – in fact only about 5% of those diagnosed actually play these sports. The conditions, which cause small tears to the tendon due to overuse over time, can be the result of repetitive motions such as painting, cooking/cutting, or playing some musical instruments.

3. Bursitis

Also caused by overuse or repetitive motion, bursitis is an inflammation of the bursa (small sacs of fluid that cushion your joints, including the elbow). Bursitis pain is usually contained within the elbow, and can be accompanied by swelling and redness. Bursitis can also be the result of an infection.

4. Elbow Sprains and Strains

These types of injuries most often occur as the result of playing sports that involve throwing or rackets (which involve heavy use of the elbow), as well as lifting something heavy. A stretched or torn muscle results in a strain, whereas a stretched or torn ligament is considered a sprain.

5. Elbow Osteoarthritis

Wear and tear on the elbow joint can result in osteoarthritis of the elbow, causing pain, stiffness, difficulty moving the elbow, locking and scraping inside the joint.


Treatment for common elbow pain:

The conditions mentioned above, once diagnosed by a professional, are often treated without surgical intervention. The most common course of treatment for these common elbow pain conditions includes:

  • rest
  • heat
  • NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as Ibuprofen)
  • physical therapy, including stretching

In some cases, a steroid injection is necessary to relieve pain. Bracing may also be an option to avoid continued stress on the tendon, muscles or ligaments. Only in extreme cases is surgery necessary to repair the damaged tendons or ligaments.


Other causes of elbow pain:

1. Cubital Tunnel Syndrome

Similar to carpal tunnel syndrome, cubital tunnel syndrome (also called ulnar neuropathy or ulnar nerve entrapment) is the result of a compressed nerve in the inner elbow. It can result from continuous pressure on the elbow, caused by constant leaning on the elbow, talking on a cell phone or sleeping with the arm bent, as well as some sports activities. Symptoms usually include pain and numbness in the inner elbow, and can lead to tingling extending down to the ring finger. Treatment includes bracing or splinting. In severe cases, surgery to relieve pressure on the ulnar nerve and/or move the nerve away from the pressure point is very successful.

2. Radial Tunnel Syndrome

When the compressed nerve is the radial nerve, on the outer portion of the elbow, the condition is radial tunnel syndrome. Symptoms are often more severe, and can include stabbing pain along the top of the forearm. Treatment begins with splinting or bracing, NSAIDs, cortisone injections and stretching. If symptoms do not decrease after three months, surgery may be necessary to reduce pressure on the radial nerve. Read this patient success story of a carpenter’s journey with Radial Tunnel Syndrome.

3. Elbow Fractures

A fall or accident that involves impact to your elbow could result in an elbow fracture. If you feel significant pain in the elbow or have limited mobility after such an incident, visiting a doctor for an x-ray and evaluation is crucial to ensure proper bone repair and a return to full mobility. Some minor elbow fractures only require use of a sling, but if the bone is displaced during the incident, surgery may involve use of pins to stabilize the bone, followed by wearing a cast.

4. Elbow Dislocation

Usually the result of an accident or fall, if your elbow looks different, and you feel pain, numbness, instability, and/or experience swelling of the elbow or an inability to move the elbow, you may have an elbow dislocation. In many cases a qualified physician can manually return the dislocated bone into place. Patients usually require rest, icing, NSAIDS and physical therapy afterward. In the case of a severe dislocation, surgery may be necessary to restore full function by treating displaced or torn ligaments and tendons.


When to Have Elbow Pain Looked At

As mentioned previously, with so many bones, ligaments, tendons and muscles in the elbow joint, it isn’t always easy to determine the cause of one’s elbow pain right away. That’s why it’s important to consult a qualified orthopedist to evaluate your elbow pain and make a proper diagnosis. If your elbow pain persists after more than a few days and does not resolve after resting, icing and taking NSAIDs, it is wise to consult a physician. If your elbow pain is the result of a fall, injury or other accident, you should consult an orthopedist immediately.


Why OrthoConnecticut for elbow pain?

Elbow pain can be a very uncomfortable and limiting condition that can affect anyone. It is important to understand the underlying causes of elbow pain to properly treat and manage it. If you are experiencing elbow pain, it is also important to seek medical attention to determine the underlying cause and receive appropriate treatment. OrthoConnecticut is the premiere orthopedics practice in Connecticut, with a team of board certified professionals at all locations. Our team of experts treat all types of elbow injuries, and are experienced performing elbow surgery when necessary. The practice also offers on-site physical therapy and custom bracing services. In the case of an accident, OrthCare Express offers walk-in orthopedic care (no appointment necessary) with on-site digital x-ray, casting and bracing services offered in nine locations.


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