Elbow Pain Symptoms

By Ashley Henshaw. May 7th 2016

Are you experiencing pain in your elbow? If so, there are plenty of possible causes for your discomfort. In this article, we’ll explore the various causes and risk factors for elbow pain along with the best treatments and prevention options.


There are many different types of pain or symptoms that you may experience as a result of an elbow injury or a joint condition. Here are some of the following symptoms to watch for to let you know that you need to seek treatment for your elbow pain:

  • Pain that gradually worsens
  • Sharp, shooting pains
  • Pain that radiates down through the forearm and hand when grasping objects
  • A weak grasp
  • Pain at night
  • Pain that worsens after movement or activity
  • Tenderness around the joint
  • Stiffness or achiness when moving the elbow
  • Swelling, warmth or redness
  • Reduced ability to move the joint
  • Discolored or bruised skin

Causes And Risk Factors

There are numerous possible causes for elbow pain, each of which may have specific symptoms or signs that may clue you in to the potential cause for your discomfort. The following are some of the main causes of elbow pain:

  • Elbow strain: Also called a “pulled muscle,” a strain occurs when the muscles around the elbow are overstretched or torn. Symptoms include discolored or bruised skin and swelling around the elbow.
  • Tennis elbow: This is an inflammation or soreness in the elbow and the outside of the upper arm. It results from repetitive motion using the elbow joint, such as swinging a tennis racket or using a screwdriver. Symptoms include a weak grasp and a pain that radiates down to the forearm and the hand when grasping something.
  • Tendinitis: This is the inflammation or irritation of the tendons in the elbow. Symptoms include pain at night, pain that worsens after movement and tenderness near the joint.
  • Bursitis: Bursitis occurs when the fluid-filled sac between the tendon and skin is inflamed. Symptoms include tenderness, swelling and warmth on the joint and a stiff or achy feeling when moving the elbow.
  • Arthritis: Arthritis occurs when cartilage in the elbow breaks down, causing the bones to rub together. Symptoms include a reduced ability to move the joint, stiffness (especially in the morning) and swelling and redness at the elbow.
  • Direct injury: The elbow could become dislocated or even broken due to a direct blow to the arm or a fall. Symptoms include an extreme, shooting pain and the arm and elbow may even appear deformed due a break or dislocation. Seek medical attention immediately if you experience a direct injury to the elbow that causes these symptoms.

The main risk factor for elbow pain depends on the types of activities in which a person partakes. Since many cases of elbow pain come from repeated use of the joint, a number of professions put people at risk: painters, plumbers, tennis players and mechanics are all at risk due to the repeated bending or twisting motions they use in their work. Even prolonged use of a computer mouse and keyboard could cause this type of pain. In addition, playing sports or engaging in other rough activities increases the risk of injury to the elbow.


There are several ways you can help prevent elbow injuries, including:

  • Wear protective gear like elbow pads when participating in certain activities or sports.
  • Stretch your arms out and warm up properly before engaging in sports or other activities.
  • Maintain good strength in your arm muscles.
  • Give your elbow some rest or breaks during repetitive motions.
  • Avoid repetitive motions when possible or use tools and devices that allow for less arm movement.


The treatment for elbow pain depends largely on the type of injury a person has sustained or the condition they have developed. In general, however, applying ice to the elbow for periods of 10 to 15 minutes and avoiding use of the affected joint is generally helpful for many types of elbow pain. Additionally, taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (such as ibuprofen or aspirin) may help with the swelling and pain. Of course, any direct injury such as a break or dislocation warrants immediate medical attention.

If your pain persist or is particularly uncomfortable, seek a doctor for further treatment. In some cases, physical therapy is used to restore the strength and flexibility in the elbow joint and to alleviate the pain. Surgery may be necessary for very severe cases.

In most cases, elbow pain can be treated and dealt with at home. An important part of preventing elbow pain is to ensure that you aren’t overusing the joint or using repetitive motions with your arms for extended periods of time. See a doctor if you have any questions about how to treat your pain or what is causing it.


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