Many people experience elbow pain at some point in time. Your elbow is a somewhat complex mechanism that relies on three different bones for support and movement. The elbow gives your arm the ability to rotate outward and inward, while also working like a hinge upward and downward.
The functional design of your elbow allows movement, flexion and rotation of your arms. Sometimes, these repeated and irregular movements can cause elbow pain. While minor elbow pain may indicate a small strain, more constant or severe pain may be cause for concern. For those struggling with elbow pain, here are 5 common causes.
5 Causes of Elbow Pain
- Tendinitis: Elbow tendinitis or “Tennis Elbow” is a real source of pain for many active individuals, and for those repeatedly using forearm muscles often in certain workplace environments. Activities like window washing, swinging a tennis racket, or making home repairs, can aggravate your elbow and cause the tendons to become inflamed. This is often followed by swelling and warmth at the site. Typically, when a physician identifies tendinitis as the cause of your elbow pain, he or she will suggest rest, ice and possibly a brace for the affected area. Anti-inflammatory medications may also be helpful when treating pain and inflammation.
- Bursitis: Bursae are fluid-filled sacs designed to provide cushioning between bones and tissue. In the case of elbow pain, the flat olecranon bursa is located at the back of the elbow. When this bursa becomes irritated and inflamed, the area may become fluid-filled and bursitis will start to develop. This injury tends to occur after trauma or prolonged pressure such as leaning on your elbows while typing on the computer. This condition causes pain, swelling and redness to the affected area. Following a physician’s examination and diagnosis, anti-inflammatory medications may be recommended. Changing your activities and wearing an elbow pad may also be advised. This condition is for the most part easily treatable and comes with a speedy recovery.
- Arthritis: Arthritis located in your elbow is the cause of swelling, tenderness, pain and decreased range of motion. This condition targets joints and causes inflammation and erosion of cartilage and bone. In order to combat this pain, your doctor may prescribe anti-inflammatory medications, while alternating between heat and ice for the affected area. Other possible treatment options for arthritis in your elbow include: bracing the elbow, changing activities and undergoing cortisone injections.
- Sprain or Broken Elbow: During irregular movements, accidents or intense physical activities, your elbow may take the brunt of the pain. A collision or unusual impact could cause your elbow to strain the ligaments or fracture the bones. If you suspect a break or strain, you should see a physician for a physical exam and possible x-rays. If your elbow is broken, the treatment generally requires immobilization or surgery. If a strain is present, your physician will suggest rest, ice, immobilization, compression and anti-inflammatory medications to reduce pain and swelling.
- Cellulitis: Another common cause of elbow pain actually involves inflammation of the skin. Cellulitis occurs when an abrasion or puncture wound allows bacteria to move from the surface of the skin, into the deeper layers. The symptoms of this condition are characterized by redness, warmth, swelling and heat on the surface of the skin. Often, individuals with cellulitis will exhibit a low-grade fever. Treatment for this condition involves antibiotic medication, rest and over-the-counter pain relievers. This infection can worsen if left untreated, so make sure to seek medical attention if you suspect cellulitis.
Just because you feel pain in your elbow doesn’t mean you have a broken elbow or cellulitis. There are many different conditions that may cause elbow pain. If you are suffering from ongoing elbow pain following an injury, accident or other circumstances, you should seek medical attention for a thorough examination and diagnosis. Louisville orthopedic surgeon and sports medicine physician Dr. Stacie Grossfeld is always available to diagnose and treat your elbow pain. For more information or to schedule an appointment, call 502-212-2663 today.