Elbow pain: an overview

Elbow pain can have a real impact on your day-to-day activities. So we've explained the potential causes, the way elbow pain is diagnosed, and the specific treatments required for effective pain relief.

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Pain in and around the elbow is common and can be caused by a variety of different injuries and conditions. The elbow is a complex hinge joint that can be susceptible to sprains, fractures and over-use injuries. These injuries can be common in many different types of people but frequently in people whose occupations and activities involve repetitive movements of the hand, wrist and arm. Injuries can also occur frequently in people who play sport and are more at risk of trauma. Elbow pain can present in any age group and symptoms can be variable for every person.

The elbow is a complex hinge joint that connects the humerus (upper arm bone) to the radius and ulna (forearm bones). The joint allows flexion (bending the elbow) and extension (straightening the elbow) movements, as well as supination and pronation (turning your palm up and down). The elbow is made up of three bones and a multitude of soft tissue structures that are important for the stability, movement and function of the elbow. As with all soft tissues in the body these ligaments, tendons and nerves can be irritated or injured causing pain to that area.

Pain in the elbow can occur due to the nature of your job, from an accident or injury or even from gradual degeneration due to aging. Most injuries will resolve in a matter of weeks with some conditions fluctuating up and down for a few months or years.



Some common conditions of the elbow include tennis elbow and golfers elbow which are associated with the tendons around that area. Others include ligament sprains, osteoarthritis and cubital tunnel syndrome. Cubital tunnel syndrome is where there is compression or irritation of the ulnar nerve at the site of the elbow.

On occasion elbow pain can resolve by itself without the need of any medical input. However, if this pain doesn’t resolve over a few days or weeks it is useful to go to see a GP or a physiotherapist to gain a diagnosis for the elbow pain and advice and guidance on how best to treat it. Treatment can vary from manual hands on therapy to simple advice and activity modification. There will also be a variety of rehabilitation exercises that will be appropriate to complete to ensure full recovery and reducing the chance of re-injury.

There are some conditions which can predispose to developing some forms of elbow pain. These include rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and other autoimmune diseases. These conditions can cause pain, stiffness and swelling in the joint. It is best to be in discussion with your rheumatologist if this is the case for you. They may need to complete different tests or adjust any medication. If you are not seeing a rheumatologist, then your local GP will be able to arrange this for you.

There are always a lot of questions that are asked when it comes to pain and musculoskeletal conditions. Throughout this content hub are some common questions that have been answered with information relating to elbow pain.

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