The elbow is a joint formed by a combination of three bones – the upper arm bone, known as the humerus, the ulna, and the radius, which are the two bones that form the base of the forearm.
The elbow allows you to perform actions such as throwing, lifting, swinging, hugging, and some other activities that require the arm. The reason why all of this is possible is that the elbow is not a simple joint – since it’s a combination of three bones.
Each of the bones that make up the elbow (humerus, ulna, and radius) possess cartilage on its end, which aids in movement (sliding smoothly against each other) and also acts as a shock absorber. They are held in place by tough tissues known as ligaments. And tendons create a connection between the bones and muscles which allows your arm to perform various movements in different directions. Elbow pain can be caused by different things ranging from underlying issues to injuries caused by sporting activities or injuries caused by wear and tear and diseases.
If there is an issue among these parts or something happens to them, or if anything occurs to the nerves and blood vessels surrounding these parts, it can result in pain or injuries.
Causes of Elbow Pain
There are different causes of elbow pain and injuries. Some of them could be caused by One-time injuries, Wear and Tear injuries, or Diseases that affect the same elbow. Each cause has its diagnosis and treatment. It can also be caused by underlying issues which could involve any of the following:
- Arm muscles
- Elbow ligaments
- Arm bones
Some of the causes of elbow disorders are caused by one-time injuries such as; falling or taking a hard hit during sporting activities. Examples of these types of injuries include:
The elbow is made up of a good number of bones that aid it in performing movements. In a situation whereby one or two of these bones is shifted out of place, then you can be said to have a dislocation or have a dislocated shoulder. One of the usual causes of dislocated elbows is putting out your hand to brace yourself during a fall.
If one of the bones in your arms breaks at the elbow, then you can be said to have a fracture. Usually, this often occurs due to a harsh and unexpected bump or collision, which one could get through a car crash, or sports that require physical contact. Oftentimes, you might find out that you can still move your elbows, do not be deceived by the temporary movement, the bone could still be broken. Do not hesitate to see your doctor after such an injury occurs.
Strains and Sprains
When there is a tear or a stretch in the muscles, it’s a strain, if there is a stretch or tears in the ligaments, it’s known as a sprain. A strain occurs when there is too much stress or burden on the muscles of the elbow such as lifting heavy objects or overworking them while playing sports. Sprains are often found in athletes who play sports that include throwing, using racquets, or playing sports that require contact.
It is inevitable for injuries to occur as time goes on, due to repetitive actions you perform and this causes wear and tear on your elbow. Example of wear and tear injuries include:
This injury is often caused as a result of repeating the same actions times without number. Bursitis can also be contracted through accidents or infections. The bursa is a small sac that contains fluid, they are located in the joints to act as a cushion for your bones, tendons, and muscles. They also make the movement of skin sliding over bones easier. Once in a while, they can swell up and cause you immense pain. Oftentimes, bursitis is treated by using pain killers.
Tennis elbow and golfer’s elbow
These are a category of tendinopathy or tendonitis which simply means damage caused to the tendons surrounding the elbows due to overworking or overexertion. Despite what the name might imply, this condition is not exclusive to golfers or tennis players. They are just more susceptible to them due to the intensity of the arm movements while playing the sports. The only disparity between the two is that while the tennis elbow affects the exterior of your elbow, the golfer’s elbow affects the interior.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
This is a condition in which a nerve that passes through the wrist gets pinched and causes some discomfort in the wrist and arms. It is possible to have the same issues in the elbow.
Cubital Tunnel Syndrome
In this situation, one of the important nerves in your arm (the ulnar nerve) gets pinched while it moves inside your elbow and passes through a tissue known as the cubital tunnel. You may feel burning sensations or feeling of numbness in your hand, arm, and fingers.
Radial Tunnel Syndrome
This is a condition that affects the radial nerve as it moves through the radial tunnel near the exterior of the elbow. You may feel burning sensations or numbness on the exterior of your forearm and elbow.
A stress fracture often causes a small crack in one of the bones in your arms, usually caused by overexertion. This disorder often occurs in the lower legs and feet, but athletes who play sports that involve lots of throwing such as baseball pitchers have a high chance of getting them in the elbow. The pain often worsens while throwing.
Numerous diseases can cause elbow pain and some of them are listed below:
Different types of arthritis can cause elbow pain, but the ones that often cause it are rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis. Rheumatoid Arthritis is the most commonly seen variant of arthritis that affects the elbow. When you are suffering from rheumatoid arthritis, your immune system damages the healthy tissues in your body, resulting in swelling in the joints. Osteoarthritis occurs when the cartilage in your elbow breaks down due to the passing of time, which means the bones repeatedly rub on each other and this results in pain and stiffness.
This is another variant of arthritis in which Uric acid, which should normally be passed out of the body as a waste product, stays in the body in the form of crystals in the tissues. If the build-up occurs in the elbow, it can cause immense pain.
Sleeping awkwardly on the elbow:
Sleeping on the elbow affects the upper arm muscles which in turn strains the elbows. This can cause the tendons in the elbows to be more painful. Sleeping awkwardly on the elbow can also twist your forearms while you are asleep and this could also injure your tendons and cause elbow pain.
Pinched and Trapped Nerves:
When the nerves are pinched, the pain will be felt in the forearm before it moves down to the elbow region. Elbow pain could also be a result of muscle weakness.
Common Elbow Injuries
These are injuries that are commonly seen and they can range from sudden (acute) injuries to injuries caused by overusing the arms and elbows:
Sudden (Acute) Injuries
This is caused by a direct hit or injuries from falling. Discomfort may be sudden and might be a severe case.
- Bruises caused by tear or rupture of tiny blood vessels located under the skin.
- Injuries to ligaments – which are the fibers that serve as a connection between bones around the joints.
- Injuries to tendons that connect the muscles and bones.
- Injuries to joints (sprains) that caused tears to the ligaments.
- Muscle strains that occur as a result of overstretched muscles.
- Fractures of the upper arm (humerus) or the forearm bones (radius) occur at the elbow joint.
- Muscle joints dislocations.
These types of injuries occur when there is too much pressure on a joint or any other tissue. This is mostly a result of performing repetitive actions.
- Bursitis, which is the swelling of the elbow.
- Tendinosis, which is a sequence of small and micro-tears in tissues around the tendon.
- The pinched nerve, which could include Ulnar nerve compression, which is the pinching of the ulnar nerve which is near the elbow joint.
Symptoms of Elbow Pain
Symptoms of elbow pain include the following:
- Immense pain, inflammation, and bruising around the areas surrounding the elbow.
- Motility issues, (being unable to bend the arms).
- Faint ache while resting.
- Feelings of pain while balling the palms to make a fist.
- Discomfort around the affected parts
- Weak grip
- Intense pain while attempting to grab objects.
- Intense pain while attempting to stretch the arms.
Elbow Pain Relief
The following steps can be taken to relieve elbow pain:
- Perform exercise to strengthen the tendons.
- Occasional soft tissue massages.
- Occasional ice massages.
- Braces to support the elbow
- Using pain relievers to reduce the pain.
Elbow pain stretches
These exercises help you stretch and strengthen the muscles in your arm.
- Let your fingers and your thumb touch and use a rubber band to hold them together.
- Gradually open your thumb and fingers totally, then close them again.
- Repeat up to 25 times.
Do this three times a day. If you feel it’s not much of a challenge, use two rubber bands.
Wrist Flexor stretch:
- Stretch out your arm while making sure your elbow remains straight and your palms are facing upwards.
- Using your free hand, bend the fingers of your outstretched hand and bend it to face your body until you can feel the impact in your inner forearm.
- Remain in the motion for 15 seconds
- Repeat for three to five times.
Do this two or three times every day. You can also hold the motion for 30 seconds and train yourself to do it five to ten times daily.
Wrist flexor/extensor strengthening:
- Pick up a 1-pound dumbbell and sit down.
- Place your forearm on your thigh or the edge of a table so that your wrists hang on the edge.
- Hold the weight in your hands while making sure your palms are facing upwards.
- Gradually raise your hand and lower it unhurriedly – take notice that your arms remain on your thighs as your hand goes up and down at the wrist.
- Repeat for ten years.
Elbow Pain Treatment
Exercises help to ease the pain in the elbow. It strengthens and stretches the affected muscles. It adjusts poor posture and weak forearm muscles.
Acupuncture treats elbow pain by allowing energy to flow perfectly all through the body. Using this treatment, tendinitis is viewed like a dam built over a river, acupuncture works to remove the dam and enhance the flow of the river.
Chiropractic treatment is a pseudoscientific alternate way treatment used to correct mechanical illnesses of the musculoskeletal system, particularly in the areas of the spine. The main aim of chiropractors is to ease pain and enhance bodily functions, it doesn’t advocate the use of drugs or surgery. Instead, they modify the spine or other parts of the body to set them in the right position. Through this system, the pain in the elbow is eased.
Physical therapy or exercises could also help to relieve elbow pain and discomfort. Stretching, strengthening, and straightening exercises help to reduce elbow pain. Application of the cold and heat therapy, deep tissue massage, could be used before the exercise is started. While undergoing physical therapy, you will perform numerous workouts to stretch the elbow and relieve the muscles. Some good examples of physical therapy include; ice and heat therapy, use of neck collar, traction, prescription of pain medication, corticosteroid injections, use of antibiotics in case of an infection, muscle relaxants, and stretching, strengthening, and straightening exercises.
Exercises For Elbow pain
This kind of exercise stretches the muscles while it is under pressure. This exercise reduced pain in the elbow.
While performing these exercises, muscles contract and constrict without being seen physically. It also reduces pain in the elbow.
Static stretching exercises
These exercises should be done together with eccentric exercises.
Natural Remedies for Elbow pain
The following remedies can be done at home to reduce elbow pain:
If you have been performing repetitive actions for a while, it is advisable to take a rest to relax the tension in your muscles.
Although aspirin and ibuprofen can help, you can also try an all-natural supplement that won’t affect the liver and stomach like Natural Joint.
If your elbow feels sore, placing an ice pack on the affected area of the elbow or the joint muscles would relieve the pain.
Topical ointments are available to relieve joint discomfort, we recommend a natural option like Joint Mud.
A gentle massage would go a long way in relaxing tense muscles and as a result, reduce the pain and numbness felt in the elbow areas.
Ginger tea, heat packs, and physical exercises also help in relieving symptoms of elbow pain. Stretching and strengthening exercises would also work as a remedy for symptoms of elbow pain.
Elbow pain or discomfort can be a real pain as it can restrict you from performing your daily activities.
If you feel a dull ache in your elbows, or you have difficulties in moving your elbows, do not hesitate to call your doctor. Exercises that strengthen the muscles in the elbow, making use of correct sporting equipment and techniques, and taking intermittent rest can help you avoid elbow pain and also aid in recovery.
If natural remedies or physical therapy does not give the required effects, surgery might be recommended or oftentimes corticosteroid injections might be prescribed by the medical expert.
It is also possible to prevent elbow pain by decreasing the amount of stress placed on the joint. Other causes of elbow discomfort can be treated by taking care of the underlying issues (if there is one).