Managing elbow pain
The elbow is a complex joint involved in pulling, pushing, and forearm rotation. Just as in other joints of the body, there are many processes that can cause elbow pain. Elbow pain can be caused by injury to the bones that make up the elbow, the muscles that surround the elbow or the tendons which attach muscle to bone. A complete work-up for elbow pain often involves a neck and entire upper extremity exam as pain can radiate or be referred from many sites to the elbow.
Fortunately most elbow pain is not serious and is the result of overuse or repetitive motions. Just as in all other joints, occasionally arthritis may affect the elbow. However this is much less common than joints of the lower extremity.
Common causes of pain include: nerve compression (cubital tunnel or radial tunnel), direct trauma (fractures or dislocation), inflammation of surrounding bursa (olecranon bursitis), and inflammation of tendons on the inside (“golfer’s elbow”) or outside (“tennis elbow”) of the elbow, and arthritis (osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis).
Of course, the proper treatment for elbow pain will depend on the cause. A thorough work-up consisting of review of your history and an exam, as well as radio-graphs, is mandatory.
Many times treatment consists of a combination of rest, ice and/or heat, anti-inflammatories, physical therapy, stretching, corticosteroid injections, and in some cases surgery.
While most patients have heard of arthroscopy or replacements of hips and knees many of those treatments are also available for the elbow (although much less frequently required).
Jesse Affonso, MD
is an orthopaedic surgeon at Cape Cod Healthcare. He studied at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, in Worcester, MA while completing residency at State University of New York at Buffalo, NY (Orthopaedic Surgery).He also completed a fellowship at Johns Hopkins University Department of Orthopaedics, in Baltimore, MD (Shoulder and Elbow Surgery).