10 Causes of Elbow Pain

By james
Reviewed: Dr. Gromatzky
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When we talk about doing some hard physical labor, we tend to say that we are using a lot of elbow grease. It makes a lot of sense because the elbow is where a lot of our physical strength is applied, with strong muscles allowing us to lift heavy objects with the help of our elbows. For a joint that does so much hard work, though, there are numerous ways it can go wrong.

If you are experiencing pain in your elbow, there’s a good chance it is down to a physical cause. Bones can become broken and joints worn through excessive use. There are also various diseases and other medical conditions that can contribute to the cause of pain in the elbow.

Cause #1: Fractures

Our elbows can stick out quite a bit and this can put them in harm’s way. They will also tend to be put under quite a lot of pressure and this pressure can sometimes be a bit too much for them to take. Fractures can occur for a variety of reasons and they can be incredibly painful.

An injury is considered to be a fractured elbow if the bones of the arms are fractured where they meet at the elbow. Such an injury can cause the patient to experience other symptoms such as swelling, bruising and a loss of mobility in the elbow.

Elbow Pain

Cause #2: Dislocation

The elbow joint is made up of 3 joints between the three large arm bones. The joint provides flexibility, allowing us to turn and twist our hands in ways that allow us to manipulate the world around us. The joints are held firmly into place with muscle, tendons and ligaments but these joints are not so strong that the bones cannot be moved out of their normal position.

When excessive force is applied to the elbow, it can cause the bones to move out of their natural position. This is what we know as a dislocation and it can be very painful for the patient. A dislocation will need to be returned to its natural position and healing can take some time.

Cause #3: Tennis Elbow

Where your elbow joint is, you will find a large tendon attached to the muscles that move your arms, wrists, and fingers. This tendon obviously sees a lot of action and is expected to work hard on a daily basis. Tendons are very tough, but they are not invincible and they can become swollen and sore if overused. This results in a condition known as tennis elbow.

The condition is not found in tennis players only, of course, but it is a fairly common condition in tennis players as they use their elbow a great deal. Anybody could develop the condition and it can be painful while also limiting their mobility.

Elbow Pain

Cause #4: Bursitis

Having tendons, muscles, and bones rubbing directly against each other is not a good idea as friction will inevitably lead to injuries. There are protective barriers that help avoid such friction, though, one of which is a bursa. A bursa is a small sac of liquid that provides a protective cushion to help protect different parts of the body from rubbing against each other.

If the elbow is overused, though, then the bursa can become irritated and swollen. This can be quite painful and will also limit your movement. Bursitis is usually treated with medication but surgery is sometimes necessary in advanced cases.

Cause #5: Arthritis

Arthritis is a condition that is more likely to affect people as they get older. It is not actually a single condition, but rather the term given to a collection of conditions that cause pain and problems with various joints in the body. The elbow can also be affected.

The most common form of arthritis is rheumatoid arthritis. This is an autoimmune condition and is caused by the body’s immune system attacking the joints. Another common form is osteoarthritis, which is caused when the joints begin to wear down over time. Treatments include anti-inflammatories and painkillers, although surgery may be necessary in severe cases.

Elbow Pain

Cause #6: Sprains and Strains

With the elbow being used so frequently, and often for heavy work, it is no wonder that it can be worked too hard at times. This can lead to injuries known as sprains or strains, both of which are quite similar to each other. They can cause a great deal of pain and render the patient’s elbow immobile for some time.

A sprain occurs when the ligaments in the joint are overstretched or damaged in some other way. A strain occurs when it is the muscles that are overstretched or damaged. Treatment will generally involve resting the joint and elevating it where possible to limit swelling. Participating in physical therapy is a great way to help these structures heal. Surgery might be necessary if serious damage has occurred.

Cause #7: Gout

In the past, gout used to be considered a disease that only wealthy people would suffer from. It was even considered to be a status symbol, with those having the condition proud to be able to boast about it. This was because it is caused by a diet of rich foods that only the wealthy could afford at the time.

Nowadays, even the less wealthy among us are able to afford a more indulgent diet. This means that gout is still very much a common problem today and it is known for being very painful. Medication is available to treat the condition and the patient should also try to eat a balanced diet to help prevent it from happening again.

Elbow Pain

Cause #8: Osteochondritis Dissecans

We tend not to think of bone as living, but it is very much alive. It feeds off the nutrients that are fed to it by the blood supply. It also contains bone marrow that produces the white blood cells that help us to fight against disease. That the bone is living, though, also means that it can die, and this can lead to problems.

Osteochondritis dissecans is a condition where a part of the bone in the elbow has died. The dead piece of bone is likely to break off from the rest and this can cause significant pain. The condition is mostly found in teenagers and children. Treatment can be difficult, although there is a chance of the bone healing itself if it occurs in young children.

Cause #9: Trapped Nerves

Your nerves need to be able to travel all the way down to each hand so that you are able to touch and feel. This means that the nerves will need to pass through some areas where there is little space. Sometimes, the nerves can end up being pinched and squeezed by the surrounding bone and tissue and this can lead to considerable pain.

Trapped nerves will also likely cause symptoms such as tingling, burning or numbness. There are two main types of this condition in the elbow, which are cubital tunnel syndrome and radial tunnel syndrome. Physical therapy, medication can help relieve the symptoms and surgery may be necessary in severe cases.

Cause #10: Lyme Disease

Ticks are found throughout much of the world, including North America. These parasites feed off the blood of their hosts and they will gladly take up the chance of feeding on people if they get a chance. They will bite through the skin to get to the blood below and this bite could cause you to become infected with Borrelia.

Borrelia is the bacteria that is responsible for Lyme disease. It causes a range of symptoms including a headache, rash, fever and aching of the joints, including the elbow. Lyme disease is fairly straightforward to treat if caught early and fatalities are rare. It gets harder to cure if left untreated, though, so the disease should be dealt with as soon as possible.

Elbow Pain

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