Treating Elbow Injuries & Common Pain Conditions

You use your elbows for many different things throughout the day, and proper elbow movement is an essential part of life. When the tendons, ligaments, or bones in and around your elbow are injured it can lead to severe pain, decreased mobility, and difficulty with everyday activities. Our surgeons at University Orthopaedic Services can diagnose and treat elbow injuries and conditions with surgical and non-surgical interventions.

Elbow Pain Causes

Tendons connect your muscles to the bones on both the inside and the outside of the elbow. Elbow pain is usually caused by a sudden injury or repetitive movements that damage tendons. It could also be from:

  • bursitis,
  • arthritis,
  • infections,
  • fractures,
  • dislocations, or
  • strains.

female bicyclist hurts elbow

Types of Elbow Pain

Tennis Elbow (Lateral Epicondylitis)

Tennis elbow is an injury to the tendons that connect your forearm muscles to the outside of your elbow, which may cause worsening pain and inflammation over time. 

You will experience symptoms such as:

  • pain radiating from the outside of your elbow to the back of your hand,
  • difficulty gripping or grasping things, and
  • pain when you twist your arm.

Common causes of tennis elbow include:

  • repetitive movements,
  • repetitive keyboard typing or use of a computer mouse, or
  • activities and jobs that require frequent or continuous wrist movement.

Golfer’s Elbow (Medial Epicondylitis)

This condition occurs when there is pain and inflammation in the tendons on the inside of your elbow. 

The most common signs of golfer’s elbow are pain when:

  • flexing your wrist,
  • trying to grasp things, or
  • shaking hands.

It is often the result of professions or hobbies that require you to repeatedly twist your wrist, such as painting or construction.

Fracture or Dislocation

Elbow pain could also be the result of a fracture or dislocation. When you fall it’s natural to try to brace yourself with your arm, but that often causes an elbow injury. Treatment may include immobilizing the elbow with a splint or sling, or surgery in severe cases.

Arthritis

As the cartilage in your elbow wears out over time, it can lead to elbow pain or range of motion losses. Arthritis could be from an old injury, such as a dislocation or fracture. However, more often it’s from normal wear and tear as you age. It may also develop in people who had reconstructive elbow surgery or instability (loose ligaments or tendons that do not keep the elbow joint in place properly) that changes the normal function of the elbow. Treating your elbow injury early can reduce the chance of developing arthritis later. Elbow arthritis can cause swelling or numbness in the elbow or hand in the later stages.

Find an Elbow Specialist

Elbow Pain Diagnosis

At your initial appointment, your doctor will ask how and when the pain started, and what treatments (if any) you have already tried. If you previously had imaging for your elbow injury, bring that to your appointment. However, your doctor may still recommend additional imaging to compare with the older imaging results.

During the examination, your doctor will:

  • look for swelling or deformities,
  • observe the range of motion in your joint, and
  • check around the joint for weakness or tenderness.

For many elbow injuries, the doctor will also order tests such as:

  • X-ray This identifies fractures or bone injuries.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) An advanced imaging technology that looks at the ligaments, tendons, and other soft tissues around your elbow.
  • Computed tomography (CT) scan This imaging scan gives a more detailed view of the bones.
  • Diagnostic arthroscopy A simple surgical procedure that inserts a fiber-optic camera into the joint to see damage that may not be evident from other imaging tests.

Elbow Pain Treatment

Our orthopedic doctors treat elbow pain and elbow conditions with:

  • Rest and NSAIDS (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) — These are usually the first steps in treating elbow pain.
  • Cortisone injections — These can help minimize inflammation.
  • Physical therapy This is used when non-invasive treatment is the best choice.
  • Elbow arthroscopy A minimally invasive surgery with no large incision (cut).
  • Surgical repairs for tendons and ligaments — This treatment is most commonly used when there is a torn tendon or ligament.

If you experience elbow pain following an injury that does not improve within a couple weeks or gets progressively worse, contact your doctor. You should also see a doctor immediately if you have:

  • swelling,
  • redness or bruising around the elbow, or
  • you cannot bend or straighten your arm.

Schedule an Appointment with One of Our Orthopedic Specialists

Many elbow injuries will get worse if they are not treated. Prolonging treatment could result in a longer recovery or injuries that cannot be easily or completely fixed.

We are always accepting new patients, so primary care doctors and other physicians can send referrals to our doctors at University Orthopaedic Services. Patients can also schedule a consultation directly by calling 801-587-7109.

When to See an Orthopedic Doctor

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