If you suffer from elbow pain, there are several possible conditions which could be causing this symptom. In this article, we’ll explore the most common causes of elbow pain and how you can treat them.
Tendinitis is the irritation or inflammation of a tendon. When this occurs in the tendons in and around the elbow, pain is felt in that area. This is one of the most common causes of elbow pain, largely because it can result from so many different activities. In fact, there are a couple of common names for elbow pain resulting from tendinitis, such as “tennis elbow” and “golfer’s elbow.” The repetitive arm motions involved in tennis and golf cause the tendons to be overworked and lead to elbow pain. Although this is common among tennis players and golfers, any other activity which overworks the tendons in the elbow can potentially cause tendinitis.
Mild tendinitis of the elbow can often be treated with the R.I.C.E. method (rest, ice compression, elevation) and over-the-counter pain medications. For more severe or chronic cases, tendinitis of the elbow may require physical therapy or surgery to correct.
Much like tendinitis, sprains and strains are common causes of elbow pain. These conditions also have somewhat similar symptoms, so it may be difficult to tell which condition you have. Sprains and strains are not exactly alike, however, since they affect different parts of the elbow. A sprain is a stretching or tearing of ligaments, while a strain is a stretching or tearing of muscles or tendons. Both conditions are painful and cause swelling, but sprains often involve bruising and possible a popping noise at the time of the injury, while strains tend to cause muscle spasms. Sprains and strains of the elbow both make it difficult to move the elbow joint.
Most strains and sprains can be treated at home with the R.I.C.E. method and over-the-counter pain medications. See a doctor if your strain or sprain is extremely painful or is accompanied by any numbness in the elbow. Physical therapy or surgery may be required for severe cases.
Osteoarthritis of the elbow occurs when the protective cartilage on the ends of the bones in the elbow wear down over time. In addition to elbow pain during or after using the elbow joint, this condition may also cause stiffness, tenderness or a loss of flexibility in that area. Some individuals with osteoarthritis also get bone spurs in their elbow, which are extra bits of bone around the joint which feel like hard lumps. This risk for this condition increases with age, and women are more likely to develop it.
There is no cure for osteoarthritis, but people with this condition can try to find ways to avoid using their elbow so much or work with a physical therapist to slow the progression. Pain medications and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs can also help with the pain associated with this condition.
A dislocation of the elbow occurs when the bones in the arms are forced out of their normal positions. This usually occurs as a result of a sudden pull or jolt to the arm, such as those sustained while playing sports, in a car accident or from a fall. The elbow pain associated with this condition is usually sudden and severe, and the joint may be temporarily immobilized as a result of the dislocation. Swelling or discoloration in the elbow area is also a common symptom of dislocation.
If you dislocate your elbow, try to avoid moving the joint and get to a doctor immediately. The only way to treat this condition is to have a doctor rule out the possibility of a broken bone and then adjust the bones back into place. After that, most individuals can simply rest the joint and try to keep it immobilized temporarily. Pain relievers can be taken to help with the pain. In severe cases, surgery or physical therapy may be needed to fully heal the dislocation elbow.
It is possible to break the bones in the elbow. There are actually three bones that meet in the elbow area of the arm: the humerus (the upper arm bone), the radius (one of the lower arm bones) and the olectranon (the end of the other lower arm bone which accounts for the bony point in the elbow). An elbow fracture occurs when the olectranon or the portion of the humerus or radius located in the elbow area sustains a break. Falls or direct hits to the elbow can result in an elbow fracture.
An elbow fracture will result in sudden and intense pain and an inability to straighten the elbow. Other potential symptoms include numbness in one or more fingers, swelling or bruising. Most elbow fractures are healed by ensuring that the bones are aligned properly and using a splint and a sling to immobilize the joint. However, serious fractures may require surgery in order to properly heal.
In many cases, elbow pain results from a sprain, strain or tendinitis, all of which can often be treated at home and which will heal relatively quickly. However, for more serious cases or for any severe elbow pain, be sure to see a doctor right away for treatment.