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  • Writer's pictureNashville PT

Common Causes of Elbow Pain


person with elbow pain

Have you been experiencing discomfort or pain in your elbow? If so, you're not alone. Elbow pain is a common complaint that can interfere with daily activities and affect your quality of life. In this blog post, we will explore some of the common causes of elbow pain, shed light on their underlying mechanisms, and discuss how physical therapy can help alleviate your symptoms. Let's dive in and discover the potential culprits behind your elbow pain.


elbow anatomy showing bones, joints, muscles

Elbow Anatomy


To understand the common causes of elbow pain, it's helpful to have a basic understanding of the anatomy of this crucial joint. The elbow joint is a complex structure that connects the upper arm bone (humerus) to the two forearm bones (radius and ulna). It is responsible for bending and straightening the arm, as well as allowing for rotational movements of the forearm.


At the elbow joint, the bony prominences you can feel are the lateral epicondyle on the outer side and the medial epicondyle on the inner side. These bony landmarks serve as attachment points for various muscles and tendons. The tendons connect muscles to bones, allowing them to generate movement and control the joint.


Inside the joint, there is a thin layer of cartilage that covers the ends of the bones. This cartilage provides a smooth surface that allows the bones to glide against each other with minimal friction. Surrounding the joint, there are ligaments that provide stability by connecting the bones together.


Additionally, there are muscles that span across the elbow joint and control its movement. The biceps muscle, located on the front of the upper arm, helps with bending the elbow, while the triceps muscle, located on the back of the upper arm, aids in straightening the elbow.



Common Causes of Elbow Pain


1. Tennis Elbow (Lateral Epicondylitis)

Tennis elbow is a condition that causes pain and tenderness on the outer part of the elbow. Despite its name, it can affect anyone, not just tennis players. The repetitive use of the forearm muscles, such as gripping or lifting, can lead to small tears in the tendons that attach to the outer part of the elbow, resulting in inflammation and pain.



2. Golfer's Elbow (Medial Epicondylitis)

Similar to tennis elbow, golfer's elbow is characterized by pain and tenderness, but on the inner part of the elbow. It is caused by repetitive movements involving the flexor tendons of the forearm, such as swinging a golf club or lifting weights. Overuse and strain on these tendons can lead to inflammation and pain.



3. Elbow Bursitis

Elbow bursitis occurs when the bursa, a fluid-filled sac that helps cushion the joint, becomes inflamed. It can be caused by repetitive pressure or trauma to the elbow, such as leaning on hard surfaces for extended periods or direct blows to the elbow. Bursitis can result in pain, swelling, and limited range of motion.


4. Sprains and Strain

Sprains and strains in the elbow can occur due to sudden twisting or overextension of the joint. These injuries can damage the ligaments, tendons, or muscles surrounding the elbow, leading to pain, swelling, and difficulty moving the joint.



5. Arthritis

Arthritis is a degenerative condition that can affect any joint in the body, including the elbow. Osteoarthritis, the most common type of arthritis, occurs when the protective cartilage in the joint wears down over time, causing pain, stiffness, and limited mobility.


How Can Physical Therapy Help?


Physical therapy is a valuable resource for managing and treating elbow pain. A physical therapist can assess your condition, identify the underlying causes of your pain, and develop a personalized treatment plan to address your specific needs. Here are some ways physical therapy can help:


1. Pain Management: Physical therapists can use various techniques, such as manual therapy and modalities like ice or heat, to help reduce pain and inflammation in the elbow.


2. Range of Motion Exercises: Gentle stretching and range of motion exercises can help improve flexibility and restore normal movement in the elbow joint.


3. Strengthening Exercises: Targeted exercises can strengthen the muscles around the elbow, providing better support and stability for the joint.


4. Technique Correction: If your pain is related to repetitive activities or sports, a physical therapist can evaluate your technique and provide guidance on proper form to prevent further strain on the elbow.


5. Education and Self-Care: Physical therapists can educate you about proper ergonomics, posture, and self-care techniques to manage and prevent future episodes of elbow pain.


Don't let elbow pain limit your activities or hinder your enjoyment of life. Seek help from a qualified physical therapist, like those at [Your Practice Name], who can guide you through a comprehensive treatment plan to relieve your pain and restore function. Take the first step toward a pain-free and active lifestyle.


References

1. Bisset L, Beller E, Jull G, et al. Mobilisation with movement and exercise, corticosteroid injection, or wait and see for tennis elbow: randomised trial. BMJ. 2006;333(7575):939.

2. Coombes BK, Bisset L, Brooks P, et al. Effect of corticosteroid injection, physiotherapy, or both on clinical outcomes in patients with unilateral lateral epicondylalgia: a randomized controlled trial. JAMA. 2013;309(5):461-469.

3. Krogh TP, Bartels EM, Ellingsen T, et al. Comparative effectiveness of injection therapies in lateral epicondylitis: a systematic review and network meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Am J Sports Med. 2013;41(6):1435-1446.

4. Loew L, Brosseau L, Tugwell P, et al. Deep transverse friction massage for treating lateral elbow or lateral knee tendinitis. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2014;(11):CD003528.

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