What Is Wrong With My Elbow? 5 Common Causes of Elbow Pain
If you have a serious elbow injury or have tried home remedies without relief, it’s time to see the doctor. The team of board-certified professionals at Orthopaedic Associates of Connecticut is here to help.
First, some basic elbow anatomy. Your elbow is a “hinge” joint made up of three bones: the humerus – the bone in your upper arm and two lower arm bones – the ulna and radius. Muscles, ligaments, and tendons hold the joint together, while cartilage acts like a shock absorber, protecting the bones from impact. The olecranon bursa, located at the bony tip of your elbow, is a small, fluid-filled sac that acts as a cushion between the bones and your skin.
Next, let’s take a look at some common causes of elbow pain.
Tendonitis is inflammation of the tendon, the fibrous tissue that connects muscle to bone. It is most commonly caused by repetitive motion or sudden injury. Symptoms of tendonitis include pain or stiffness in your elbow, and weakness in your wrist or hands. Tennis elbow and golfer’s elbow occur when the tendons around the elbow are overworked.
Tendonitis doesn’t just affect athletes. Any repetitive motion, like those used by carpenters, painters, and plumbers can lead to tendonitis. Even gardening and housework can lead to painful elbows!
A dislocated elbow happens when one of the bones becomes separated from or knocked out of their normal place. Landing on your outstretched hand while trying to prevent a fall, bracing yourself in a car accident, and athletic injuries are common causes of elbow dislocations. “Nursemaid’s elbow” is caused by lifting or swinging young children by their elbows or by a sudden pull while holding your child’s hand.
A dislocated elbow is usually very painful. In most cases, there is a noticeable deformity of your elbow joint. If you think you have a dislocated elbow, you should seek medical treatment immediately from a qualified orthopedic surgeon. Early treatment reduces the risk of irreversible damage. OSC’s team of board-certified physicians is available 24 hours a day for emergency room and hospital care.
When irritated or inflamed, the olecranon bursa, located at the bony tip of your elbow, can fill with extra fluid and become swollen. Signs of bursitis include swelling, pain when bending your elbow or with direct pressure, and redness/warmth to the touch.
One cause of bursitis is a sudden trauma, like a fall. Hitting your elbow on a hard surface is an injury common in football, basketball, and hockey players. Leaning on hard surfaces for prolonged periods can also lead to bursitis. HVAC technicians and plumbers are particularly susceptible. Long sessions of typing on computer keyboards can make you vulnerable, so can medical conditions like gout, rheumatoid arthritis, and kidney failure requiring dialysis.
Elbow Sprains and Strains
A sprain is the abnormal stretching or tear in a ligament. A strain is the abnormal stretching or tear of the muscle or tendon. Overuse and traumatic injuries, like accidents or falls, are common causes of sprains and strains. Elbow sprains are common in athletes that throw, use a racquet, or play contact sports.
Pain, bruising, and swelling are common signs of an elbow sprain or strain. You may have difficulty extending or bending your arm. Home remedies like rest, ice, compression bandages, and elevation can help. Tears can be more serious and may require surgery. Signs of tears include pain, swelling, bruising, and a bulge in your upper arm. If you suspect a tear, you should see an orthopedist a soon as possible.
There are three major nerves in your arm: the ulnar, radial, and median. Compression of these nerves can cause elbow pain. The exact cause of nerve compression is unknown but certain activities can put you at risk. Leaning on your elbows for long periods of time, such as long-distance driving or office work, and sports activities where you throw or swing repetitively, like football, baseball, tennis, and golf, can increase your chance of compressing a nerve. Old elbow injuries like fractures or dislocations increase your risk.
Untreated nerve compression can result in permanent damage, so it is important to see an orthopedist. Signs of ulnar nerve compression include pain & numbness in your elbow with tingling in your ring and little fingers. Radial nerve issues primarily affect your muscles and you may experience pain on the top of your forearm, the outside of your elbow, or back of your hand. While compression of the median nerve can occur at the elbow, it is most commonly compressed at the wrist resulting in Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.
Moving Beyond the Pain
Whether you are a dedicated athlete or weekend warrior, a member of the trades, or an enthusiastic housecleaner, the experienced team of orthopedic professionals will get you back in your game.
At Orthopaedic Specialists of Connecticut, we treat elbows and more. To make an appointment, call at (203) 775-6205 to get the treatment that’s right for you!