Are you suffering from elbow joint pain?
Find out about the most common causes of elbow joint pain, how to prevent it and learn about different options of elbow pain treatment.
The most common cause of elbow joint pain is inflammation of one or both elbow tendons which is often the result of overuse. Repetitive movements as part of everyday work, household chores, or certain sports like golf or tennis can affect the muscles located above and below the elbow which can lead to inflammation of its tendons.
Other less common causes of elbow joint pain can be the result of a one-time injury like a fall or a strong hit during sports. These include:
- Elbow dislocation
- Bone fracture
- Avulsion fracture
- Muscle strain
- Ligament sprain
- Lack of strength or flexibility in the forearm muscles
- Lack of strength in the shoulder muscles
- Instability of the elbow joint
- Poor techniques during sporting activities (especially tennis and golf) that result in too much strain on the elbow joint
- Use of inappropriate sporting equipment, such as heavy tennis racquets or wrong sized grips on tennis racquets or golf clubs
- Repetitive movements of the hands and arms, such as work on an assembly line
- Continuous lifting or carrying of heavy items
- Other factors such nerve irritations or referred pain
Sometimes other existing conditions can also cause elbow joint pain. In these cases, elbow pain treatment might include treating the pre-existing condition that caused the elbow pain in the first place. Conditions that can cause elbow pain include:
- Radiohumeral bursitis – Bursitis is inflammation of bursae. Bursae are small pads that contain fluid to lubricate and cushion moving parts such as joints, muscles and tendons. Bursitis may be caused by repetitive motion, frequent pressure, or an injury to the elbow.
- Osteoarthritis – The wearing-away of joint cartilage. The cartilage becomes brittle and splits and pieces may even break away and float around inside the synovial fluid, a liquid found in the joints. This can lead to inflammation and pain.
- Referred pain – Injuries to the bones of the spine (vertebrae) can irritate the nerves servicing the arm and cause referred pain around the elbow joint
- Nerve entrapment – The radial nerve is the main nerve of the arm. If this nerve cannot move freely, it can cause pain when the arm is stretched out. The radial nerve can be pinched by vertebrae or the elbow joint. There is evidence to suggest that nerve entrapment contributes to the pain of tennis elbow in some cases.
- Osteochondritis dissecans – A piece of cartilage and bone can become loose in the joint due to a lack of blood flow. This is more likely to occur in younger people and can cause pain and impair movement of the affected joint.
- Always warm up and cool down thoroughly when playing sport and before commencing your job if it involves repetitive movements or heavy lifting.
- Make sure you use safe techniques and proper equipment when playing sports and at work.
- Do strengthening exercises with hand weights – Our therapist can prescribe the correct exercises tailored specially to you.
- Avoid or modify work tasks that involve putting excessive pressure on muscles of the forearm or those which include the use of fingers, wrists, and forearms in repetitive work. Avoid tasks that involve forceful movement, awkward postures, and lack of rest – Our therapist can provide you with ergonomic advice.
Our therapists can provide you with different treatment options that will improve your pain. Elbow pain treatments include:
- Structured exercises prescribed to gradually strengthen the tendons
- Soft tissue massage
- Ice application recommendation
- Acupuncture or dry needling
- Taping or bracing your elbow
Your GP may also prescribe the following:
- Anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving medication – These can help you cope with the pain in the short term, however they do not improve long-term outcomes
- Surgery – In severe cases, especially if your pain has not resolved within 12 months and it is severely impacting your activities of daily living, your doctor might recommend surgery.
In most cases, corticosteroid injections are no longer recommended as evidence shows that they can be harmful in the longer term.
- You may have a dull ache even when you are not using your elbow.
- You may experience pain when making a fist which correlates with what is called a ‘golfer’s elbow’.
- You may experience pain when opening the fingers which correlates with what is called a ‘tennis elbow’.
- You may feel sore around the affected elbow and may or may not feel a bump.
- You may feel that your grip is weak.
- You may have difficulties when trying to grasp objects, especially with the arm stretched out due to pain and/or weakness in your elbow.
If you have any questions or would like to try physiotherapy to treat your elbow pain, please contact us and a member of our friendly team will help you with your enquiry.