Elbow pain can have a number of different causes — and naturally, there are a number of different solutions, too. Understanding the causes and treatments of elbow pain can help you decide how to approach your pain.
Common Causes of Elbow Pain
There are many possible causes of elbow pain including one time injuries, wear and tear over time, and arthritis.
Strains and Sprains
Sprains and strains typically occur when you’re involved in physical activity like sports or heavy physical work. A sprained elbow can happen when you fall on an elbow while playing sports or when your elbow receives a hard knock in an accident.
Either way, the ligament in your elbow gets pulled or even torn, resulting in pain which can be significant. If it’s a tendon or muscle rather than a ligament, that’s a strain rather than a sprain.
A fractured elbow is caused when a bone or bones break at the elbow. You know it’s a fracture from popping sounds, extreme pain, visible deformity, and possibly an inability to move your arm.
Even if you can still move your arm, it is possible you have a fracture. An X-ray will let you know for sure.
When one of the bones that forms the elbow gets knocked out of place and the upper arm and forearm get separated from their normal positions, it’s called a dislocation.
Simple elbow dislocation doesn’t usually require surgery. Complex elbow dislocation means there is a fracture in either the upper arm or the forearm. In some cases, surgery is necessary to fix the broken bone.
Joints that perform frequent repetitive motion can develop bursitis. This is a painful disease and commonly seen in elbows. It is a result of bursae (which act as a sort of cushion to the bones) becoming inflamed. By maintaining joint health, bursitis can sometimes be avoided.
Some of the symptoms of bursitis include feeling achy or stiff, pain when pressure is applied to the joint, and red or swollen joints.
Tennis or Golfer’s Elbow
Both of these are common injuries to the tendons that attach to your forearm muscles to the bone at your elbow.
These injuries are usually the result of repetitive strain on the tendons. You don’t have to be a tennis player or golfer to get tennis or golfer’s elbow — although they are especially common among tennis and golfers. Golfer’s elbow usually occurs on the inside of the arm, whereas generally tennis elbow hurts on the outside of the arm.
Pain that runs from your elbow, a tender elbow, a weakness in your forearm or grip, and/or pain from twisting are all symptoms.
A small crack in the bone from overuse can result in elbow pain. Stress fractures are relatively uncommon, and are sometimes associated with certain athletes — for example, baseball pitchers. Generally, it will continue to hurt more when you continue the action that resulted in the first initial cause of the stress fracture.
Cubital Tunnel Syndrome
Cubital Tunnel Syndrome involves pressure or stretching of the ulnar nerve. It can result in elbow pain, pain in the forearm, and/or weakness in the hand. The most common cause of this nerve problem is some form of pressure on the arm.
Arthritis is less likely to affect the elbow than other joints. Even so, there are still many cases of arthritis resulting in elbow pain.
Generally the form of arthritis is either osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, or post-traumatic arthritis.
Osteoarthritis can be a significant source of pain in older adults. This usually affects individuals with past joint injury, those who have a genetic predisposition, or people with an abnormal joint shape and alignment.
Arthritis can be diagnosed in many ways including imaging tests like X-rays and MRI’s. Blood tests and joint fluid analysis can also be used to diagnose specific types of arthritis.
Standard Treatment Options
With so many different possible causes, it’s no surprise that there are many possible treatments for elbow pain. The majority of disorders causing elbow pain do not require surgery unless symptoms do not improve over time.
Some common treatments:
- Elbow padding
- Wrist immobilization
- Physical therapy
- Applied heat
Treatment for elbow pain is generally simple, but can only be properly diagnosed by a doctor. Because of the many causes of discomfort, it is really a case-by-base treatment, and while home remedies may temporarily fix the pain, the pain may return until the cause and treatment are determined.
Are you in Northwest Arkansas? To schedule an appointment with our non-surgical sports medicine doctor, click through the link or call 479-751-3308.