Elbow Pain, Conditions & Injury
A closer look at elbow anatomy and conditions
The elbow is the joint that connects a person’s forearm with the upper arm. The joint is formed where the humerus meets the radius and the ulna. In addition to allowing the forearm to bend and extend it also allows rotation. (This is what allows you to rotate the palm of the hand up and down.)
The elbow forms from the expansion of the lower end of the humerus into two thick knobs, or condyles: the humerus’ dome-shaped lateral condyle articulates with a shallow depression on the end of the radius, and the humerus’ spool-shaped trochlea fits into a notch in the ulna. Flexion and extention of this joint chiefly involves only the humerus and ulna. Rotation of the forearm involves the smaller radius bone as well.
People experiencing elbow pain or who have an elbow injury may have pain, swelling, tenderness, and numbness in the elbow, and in more severe cases may experience elbow instability or loss of the elbow’s normal movement.
Overuse injuries are one of the primary causes of elbow pain, often due to repetitive elbow motions seen in sports (such as pitching in baseball or serving in tennis), hobbies, or jobs. Pain or injury due to wear-and-tear or arthritis is less common in the elbow.
Common causes of elbow pain treated at MOS
Tendonitis (also known as tendinitis) is inflammation of the tendons the thick, rope-like cords of tissue that connect muscle to bone. Tendonitis is caused by overuse (repetitive motion) or sudden injury. Tendonitis symptoms include pain in the tendon area, and sometimes loss of motion.
Bursitis is painful inflammation of the bursae, the fluid-filled sacs that reduce friction between bones, tendons, and muscles, caused by an injury, infection or other condition. Pain may be accompanied by swelling, tenderness or loss of movement.
Tennis elbow (tendinopathy)
Tennis elbow is caused by the overuse of the forearm, hand and other arm muscles, causing injury to the tendons on the outside area of the elbow. Symptoms include pain on the outside of the elbow that may also be present in the forearm and wrist, which worsens with activity (such as shaking hands, lifting objects, and opening jars). Although this is common in tennis players, anyone who performs repetitive arm and wrist motions may develop tennis elbow, or tendinopathy.
Golfer’s elbow (medial epicondylitis)
Similar to tennis elbow, golfer’s elbow (or medial epicondylitis) is caused by overusing the forearm muscles through repetitive gripping, swinging (such as in golf), or flexing, which causes damage to the tendons (tendonitis) near the elbow. Pain from golfer’s elbow generally occurs on the inside of the elbow and down into the forearm.
Little league elbow (pitcher’s elbow)
Little league elbow (also known as pitcher’s elbow or medial apophysitis) is an overuse injury that affects children and adolescents involved in sports that require a repetitive throwing motion, such as pitching in baseball. Symptoms include pain, swelling and restricted motion.
Cubital tunnel syndrome
Cubital tunnel syndrome, also known as ulnar neuropathy, is the compression or irritation of the ulnar nerve, which runs through the groove in the center of the elbow (in the area commonly referred to as the funny bone). Cubital tunnel symptoms include pain, numbness, and muscle weakness.
Osteochondritis dissecans occurs when a piece of bone or cartilage (or both) inside a joint loses blood supply and dies. This causes a piece of the cartilage, and usually a thin layer of bone beneath it, to separate and sometimes fall into the joint space. Symptoms commonly include pain, swelling, and problems moving the affected joint.
A fracture is a break in a bone. Broken bone symptoms include pain (intensified when the area is moved or pressure is applied), swelling, bruising, and loss of function. Fractures may also cause the area around the bone to appear distorted or deformed, especially in open fractures where the bone protrudes from the skin.
A stress fracture is a hairline crack in a bone that can worsen during activity over time. Stress fracture symptoms include pain, which increases with activity and decreases after rest, in addition to swelling and tenderness.
Sprains are stretched or torn ligaments the fibrous bands of tissue in joints that connect bones. Sprains cause pain and swelling and are ranked by three degrees of severity: a slight ligament tear or stretch (first-degree), a partial or incomplete ligament tear (second-degree), or a complete ligament tear or rupture (third-degree).
Strain is a stretched or torn muscle or tendon. Strains cause pain and swelling and are ranked by three degrees of severity: a slight muscle or tendon tear/stretch (first-degree), a partial or incomplete muscle or tendon tear (second-degree), or a complete muscle or tendon tear/rupture (third-degree).
Arthritis is painful inflammation and stiffness of the joints, which can be caused by many types of degenerative joint conditions. There are over 100 types of arthritis, including osteoarthritis, rheumatoid, gout, psoriatic, septic, post-traumatic, and lupus. Arthritis symptoms can include swelling, tenderness, sharp pain, stiffness, and sometimes fever and chills.
Bone spurs (also known as osteophytes) are bony projections that develop on the surface of the bone, and are often the result of osteoarthritis. Bone spurs usually do not cause symptoms, but can cause swelling, pain, and tearing to the surrounding tissue or tendon. Corns or calluses may also build up over time to provide padding in the area of the bone spur.
Elbow joint dislocation occurs when the forearm bones (the radius and ulna) move out of alignment with the upper arm bone (the humerus). This can be caused by fractures or injuries to blood vessels or nerves due to a fall or other trauma. Elbow dislocation is accompanied by swelling, severe pain, and inability to bend the arm at the elbow.
Ruptured biceps or triceps tendon
Although less common, the tendons connecting the biceps or triceps may encounter too much force and rupture, leading to sever pain, inability to move the elbow properly, and possible disability without treatment.