Elbow Pain: What you need to know

Overview of elbow pain

Elbow pain is a frequent complaint, primarily due to the complicated makeup of the joint. Most elbow injuries are caused by overuse. A lot of jobs, sports and hobbies require repetitive use of the elbow. The elbow allows for many essential functions that we take for granted; lifting a kettle, brushing your hair and even hugging!

Symptoms of elbow pain

The symptoms of elbow pain can vary depending on the location and the severity of the injury. The most frequent symptoms include; sharp elbow pain, tenderness of the elbow, clicking and weakness of the elbow.

There are a range of possible symptoms with elbow pain including;

Common causes of elbow pain

There are a few causes of elbow pain that we see quite regularly. The main drivers of elbow pain are injuries, overload issues, and sometimes arthritic conditions. Elbow pain

Several influential factors may trigger elbow pain:

These issues generally all lead to an overuse type injury of the elbow. What’s optimistic about that is we can treat these injuries quite effectively. Some changes in behaviour, along with some physiotherapy intervention, can make a big difference to your elbow pain.

Less commonly, we can have more traumatic elbow injuries, usually resulting from;

Elbow injuries that result from severe trauma can lead to complications. You should seek medical advice immediately to ensure adequate treatment and care. An XRAY can rule out any severe damage, with an MRI sometimes required to investigate soft tissue injuries.

Top 5 elbow injuries

Physiotherapists treat all types of elbow injuries, with the most common being;

  1. Tennis Elbow

  2. Golfers Elbow

  3. Bursitis of the elbow

  4. Chronic elbow pain

  5. Compartment syndrome

As mentioned previously, elbow pain frequently occurs in sports. Below we discuss the sports with the highest incidence of elbow injuries and how they appear.

Gym / Weightlifting

There are many positive reasons to go to the gym and do some form of resistance training. Unfortunately, pain in the elbow can result from either poor technique or too much load. Learning proper lifting techniques as well as progressively loading sensibly is the best way to avoid any potential elbow injury from weightlifting. If you aren’t confident, it is best to speak to a personal trainer or coach.

Cricket / Baseball

Throwing injuries can lead to elbow injuries - the worst being dislocations or subluxations. More frequently, throwing can lead to overuse injuries and pain. Symptoms of a throwing injury would be; reduced grip strength, pain on lifting and tenderness of the muscles at the top of the elbow.

Golf

Golf injuries are similar to cricket and baseball as it is a repetitive movement which places increased stress on the elbow joint. Golfers tend to get pain on the inside of the elbow - better known as “golfers elbow”. It is characterised by tenderness on the medial aspect of the elbow, pain with grip strength and possible swelling of the elbow joint.

Tennis

It would be remiss not to include tennis on this list as the most well-recognised elbow injury is known as “tennis elbow”. The repetitive striking of the tennis ball with the same swing pattern leads to this injury type. Formally known as lateral epicondylitis, tennis elbow is characterised by pain on the lateral aspect of your forearm, with pain commonly extending into the forearm and sometimes even the wrist.

Elbow pain treatment

Self-treatment

When dealing with mild elbow pain here are a few things you can do to help resolve it.

Gentle exercises

The easiest way to relieve elbow pain is through a few simple movements. Bending the wrist up and down will activate then relax the muscles of the forearm, helping reduce tension on the elbow. It would help if you repeated these movements throughout the day to get the best outcome.

Use heat and or cold

When dealing with acute pain or inflammation, ice can be useful. If the problem is chronic or long-standing, then heat can provide some relief as well.

Avoid painful movements and exercises

When you are in pain, some specific actions and activities will increase your pain such as; lifting heavy objects, any rotation of the forearm (using tools), or anything that requires grip strength.

Stretching

Stretching your forearm muscles can be a simple way to reduce tension and pain. Extend your painful arm out in front of your body; use your opposite hand to pull your wrist down and hold. This should create a stretching feeling across the top of your forearm - hold for 30 seconds and repeat as needed.

Pain medication

There will be some occasions where these self-treatment strategies aren’t entirely effective enough to reduce your pain. If you require pain medication, seek the advice of your pharmacist or local doctor.

Seeking medical care

If you suspect that you have dislocated or fractured your elbow, or if you are involved in a serious accident -then you must seek the advice of your local GP or hospital immediately. Dislocations left untreated can lead to problems such as nerve damage if left untreated.

Make an appointment with a physio if

Your local physiotherapist can manage elbow pain and injuries. They have adequate skills and knowledge to tackle most elbow problems and provide a lasting solution. Elbow pain can be frustrating - and only when you have it, do you realise how much you rely on good elbow movement! From lifting the kettle to opening your front door - elbow pain can make the simplest of everyday tasks hard to do!

First and foremost, your local physio will need to assess your elbow injury to determine the underlying cause and level of severity. You will need to provide your physiotherapist with information regarding your injury such as; history, pain severity and location.

Following an assessment, your physio will then begin to create a treatment plan - outlining the expected duration of treatment, home exercise program and other various details for you.

Treatment for elbow pain will include;

Frequently asked questions

How can I get rid of tennis elbow fast?

Tennis elbow can be very frustrating and can hang around a long time if left untreated and unmanaged. There are a few simple steps you have to follow to get rid of tennis elbow fast.

  1. Rest - it sucks, but it is the reality, you need to give the elbow time to recover and heal.

  2. Pain-free movement. This is an essential distinction between rest - doing nothing will only increase stiffness within the elbow and lead to further complications. Focus on gentle exercises that aren’t aggravating.

  3. Audit your activity - whether it be at home or in the workplace, are there things that you do every day, which add to your pain? Are there ways to work around these activities or change them to reduce the stress on your elbow?

  4. Seek advice early - seeing a physiotherapist early on in the injury phase can help address the problem before it becomes too severe.

How do you treat elbow pain?

Treatment of elbow pain will vary depending on the injury and the severity of it. In the case of most elbow pain, treatment will focus on increasing movement, relieving muscle tension and reducing pain. This is achieved through;

What does tendonitis in the elbow feel like?

Tendonitis feels like a sore muscle - akin to when you are tired after using your muscles a lot. Tendonitis will be localised to a small area near the elbow joint; it can present as golfers elbow or more commonly, tennis elbow. The most common symptoms are pain with gripping, turning and lifting the elbow. You may also notice some redness or swelling if the injury is acute.

Anatomy of the elbow

The elbow joint is classified primarily as a hinge joint, with two separate articulations. There is one between the radius and the humerus, and one between the ulnar and the humerus.

These articulations are where the hinge movements come from, with forearm rotation occurring at the articulation between the radius and the ulnar.

There are several ligaments which stabilise the elbow joint both laterally and medially.

There are also a group of muscles which attach at the elbow joint, allowing for the hinge movements as well as forearm rotation.

The elbow joint is compact, yet very complicated. The hinge movement with rotation requires an intricate design allowing for lots of movement.

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