What is Elbow Pain?
Elbow consists of bones, tendons and 3 joints that are humerus, ulna, and radius which form the hinge joint that makes it possible to move the arm. When the elbow is affected, it influences a person’s ability to do their regular activities and chores which can be really irritating. [1, 2, 6, 10]
Elbow pain is very common and at some point in life, it affects the majority of people. Not every elbow pain is serious but can cause intense pain and discomfort. Pain in the elbow is frequently as a result of overuse especially in jobs, sports, and hobbies that need a continuous arm, hand and wrist motions.
Pain in the elbow may affect elbow ligaments, bones in the arm, arm muscles and tendons. Some causes of elbow pain are simple and the pain can disappear in several days after a good rest and use of painkillers. Elbow pain can be caused by a number of factors including:
- Overuse and sports injuries are among the common causes of elbow pain. This is mostly common in baseball pitchers, boxers, golfers, tennis players and people whose jobs require them to repetitively use their arms, hands or wrists.
- Elbow arthritis is a generally known cause of elbow pain especially osteoarthritis. This condition is caused by a wear and tear or injury in the elbow which affects the cartilage making it become fragile and damaged.
- Elbow arthritis, abnormal bone formation or fractures can cause elbow stiffness which makes you feel uncomfortable and unable to move your elbow.
- Fractured elbow which normally occurs with a sudden blow from a car accident or contact sport.
- Golfer’s elbow and tennis elbow are elbow problems that affect the internal and external parts of the elbow. This comes about after strenuous overuse of the tendons and muscles around the elbow joint which become painful and inflamed especially after playing golf or tennis.
- Bursitis affects bursae, small fluid-filled sacs that help lubricate and protect the elbow joint.Extended leaning on the elbow on hard surfaces, rheumatoid or a blow to the elbow can cause bursitis which brings about stiffness, swelling, and pain in the elbow.
- A trapped nerve can cause pain when the arm is elongated. This happens when the radial nerve is pinched by the elbow joint and cannot move freely.
- Osteochondritis dissecan a condition that occurs when a small piece of cartilage and bone becomes detached in the elbow joint. This mostly occurs in young people as a result of a sports injury to the elbow.
- Other causes include sprains, throwing injuries, strains, rheumatoid, and dislocated elbow.
Some symptoms may be mild and others severe but ensure to seek medical advice before starting on a treatment plan. Symptoms of elbow pain include:
- Pain and warmth over the bony part at the back of the elbow
- Intense or sudden pain
- Swelling and discoloration
- Struggling in bending the elbow
- Inability to move the joint
- Struggling in twisting the forearm to turn the palm upwards
- Numbness and tingling of your little finger and ring finger after bending your elbow for a long time.
- Pain when clenching
The pain in your elbow will be diagnosed depending on your symptoms, your medical account, any possible causes and other medical conditions. The methods used to diagnose elbow pain include:
- A physical examination will be done, whereby the doctor will look and touch your elbow and joints that you could be experiencing pain. Your doctor will check for painful, swollen and tender parts.
- Based on the results of the physical exam and your medical history the doctor could carry out a lab test and X-ray or MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) to confirm a diagnosis.
- If need be the doctor could also carry out a bursal fluid analysis.
- A computerized tomography (CT) scan may be carried out to diagnose any causes of elbow pain that don’t show up on X-ray.
- In the case of broken bones, a plaster cast would be used to immobilize the elbow to allow the two parts of the bone to heal in the right position.
- Sports massage is common in the treatment of soft tissue injuries. This massage is also good for athletes if done regularly to help prevent injuries.
- Depending on your condition physiotherapy could be useful in building up strength in your elbow and preventing the condition recurring.
- Medications recommended include Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications or ibuprofen. A steroid injection may also be recommended to help reduce inflammation and pain.
- For people with tennis elbow, a technique called platelet-rich plasma (PRP) could be used. A blood sample would be taken from a patient, which is then treated to boost the number of platelets then it’s reinjected into the painful part to help stimulate healing in the surrounding tissues.
- An elbow replacement may be recommended for serious arthritis or fracture that causes nonstop pain. This involves detaching the injured joint parts and replacing them with plastic or metal implants.
- Refrain from using the affected elbow. Take some rest or cutoff from anyactivity.
- Icing can help reduce the pain and ease swelling. Put an ice pack on the affected elbow for 15 to 20 minutes.
Home treatment could be beneficial in the healing process and even cure some simple elbow pain. Here are some helpful home care tips:
- Use over-the-counter painkillers such as ibuprofen or aspirin to decrease pain and inflammation.
- Do stretches and muscle-strengthening exercises once the pain has ceased. Ensure you consult with your physiotherapist to know which technique is right for you.
- Avoid any activities that can worsen your situation instead, allow your elbow to rest.
- Use ice packs or a warm, moist cloth, whichever works for you to help relieve pain and swelling.
- Massage the area gently to reduce pain and improve the flow of blood.
- Always elevate your elbow higher when you’re seated or lying down. Use a pillow to help elevate your elbow.
- Elbow pain. Available at www.medicinenet.com/elbow_pain/article.htm
- Elbow pain. Available www.nhs.uk/conditions/arm-pain/Pages/Introduction.aspx