About elbow pain

What is elbow pain?

Elbow pain facts

  • The elbow joint is the area of union of three long bones.
  • Tendinitis can affect the inner or outer elbow.
  • Treatment of tendinitis includes ice, rest, and medication for inflammation.
  • Bacteria can infect the skin of the scraped (abraded) elbow.
  • The "funny bone" nerve can be irritated at the elbow to cause numbness and tingling of the little and ring fingers.

How is the elbow designed, and what is its function?

The elbow is the joint where three long bones meet in the middle portion of the arm. The bone of the upper arm (humerus) meets the inner bone of the forearm (ulna) and the outer bone of the forearm (radius) to form a hinge joint. The radius and ulna also meet in the elbow to allow for rotation of the forearm. The elbow functions to move the arm like a hinge (forward and backward) and in rotation (twisting outward and inward). The biceps muscle is the major muscle that flexes the elbow hinge. The triceps muscle is the major muscle that extends the elbow hinge. The outer bone of the elbow is referred to as the lateral epicondyle and is a part of the humerus bone. Tendons are attached to this area which can be injured, causing inflammation or tendinitis (lateral epicondylitis, or "tennis elbow"). The inner portion of the elbow is a bony prominence called the medial epicondyle. Additional tendons from the muscles attach here and can be injured, causing medial epicondylitis, "golfer's elbow." A fluid-filled sac (bursa), which serves to reduce friction, overlies the tip of the elbow (olecranon bursa). The elbow can be affected by inflammation of the tendons or the bursae (plural for bursa) or conditions that affect the bones and joints, such as fractures, arthritis, or nerve irritation. Joint pain in the elbow can result from injury or disease involving any of these structures.

What are the symptoms for elbow pain?

There are at least seven different types of elbow disorders. Read on to learn about their symptoms and causes.

Medial epicondylitis

Medial epicondylitis affects the inner tendons in the elbow, and is commonly called golfer’s elbow and little leaguer’s elbow. The repetitive throwing motion used in baseball and the downward swing of a golf club are common causes.

Medial epicondylitis can also be the result of a repetitive hand motion, such as swinging a hammer every day at work. This disorder can cause Pain along the inside of the elbow. Wrist movements in particular can trigger pain.

This condition usually improves with rest and conventional treatment methods, such as icing the area or using over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin).

Lateral epicondylitis

Another name for lateral elbow tendinopathy is tennis elbow.

It affects the tendons on the outside of the elbow. Playing racquet sports or working in certain professions that use the same sort of motion can cause this condition.

Professionals who commonly experience lateral epicondylitis include:

  • cooks
  • painters
  • carpenters
  • autoworkers
  • plumbers

Symptoms such as Pain or burning occur along the outside of the elbow. You also may experience problems with gripping.

These symptoms usually improve with:

  • rest
  • physical therapy
  • the use of a brace or tennis elbow strap

Olecranon bursitis

Common names for olecranon Bursitis are:

  • student’s elbow
  • miner’s elbow
  • draftsman’s elbow

Bursitis affects bursae, small sacs of fluid that help protect the joints. Olecranon Bursitis affects the bursae protecting the pointy bone of the elbow.

It may be caused by:

  • a blow to the elbow
  • leaning on the elbow for a prolonged period of time
  • infection
  • medical conditions such as arthritis

Symptoms include:

  • swelling
  • pain
  • difficulty moving the elbow

Redness and warmth may occur in the case of an infection.

Medication and elbow pads treat this condition. Surgery may be necessary in severe and chronic cases.


OsteoArthritis (OA) is a condition that affects the cartilage, a type of connective tissue found in the joints. OA causes this tissue to wear down and become damaged. Elbow OA may be caused by an elbow injury, or wear and tear on the joints.

Symptoms include:

  • pain
  • difficulty bending the elbow
  • a locking sensation in the elbow
  • a grating sound during movement
  • swelling

OA is usually treated with medication and physical therapy. Surgery, including joint replacement, is an option in more severe cases.

Dislocation or fracture of the elbow

An injury to the elbow, such as a fall on an outstretched arm or elbow, can cause dislocation or a fracture. Dislocation occurs when a bone moves from its usual position. A fracture occurs when a bone cracks or breaks.

Symptoms include:

  • visual changes to the elbow, such as Swelling and discoloration
  • inability to move the joint
  • pain

A healthcare provider can move the dislocated bone back into place. They’ll place the dislocated or fractured elbow in a splint or cast, and give you medication for Pain and swelling. Physical therapy helps restore the range of motion after the splint or cast is removed.

Ligament strains and sprains

Ligament problems can occur in any of the ligaments located in the elbow joint. Ligament sprains may be the result of trauma or repeated stress.

The ligament may be:

  • stretched
  • partially torn
  • completely torn

Sometimes you’ll hear a Popping noise upon injury.

Symptoms include:

  • pain
  • joint instability
  • swelling
  • problems with range of motion

Treatment may include:

  • rest
  • Pain relief methods such as icing the area
  • bracing the elbow
  • physical therapy

Osteochondritis dissecans

Osteochondritis dissecans, also called Panner’s disease, occurs when small pieces of cartilage and bone become dislodged in the elbow joint. It’s often the result of a sports injury to the elbow and is most often seen in young men.

Pain and Tenderness on the outside of the elbow, trouble extending the arm, and a feeling that the joint is locking could indicate this condition. You can treat this injury by immobilizing the elbow joint and undergoing physical therapy treatment.

What are the causes for elbow pain?

  • Medial epicondylitis
  • Lateral epicondylitis
  • Olecranon bursitis
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Dislocation or fracture of the elbow
  • Ligament strains and sprains
  • Osteochondritis dissecans

What are the treatments for elbow pain?

Treatment varies depending on the elbow disorder and symptoms you experience. Most elbow disorders require conservative treatment. Surgery is a last resort if your symptoms don’t improve.

Your treatment options include:

Elbow pain exercises 

Depending on the cause of your elbow pain, exercise may help you recover and prevent the condition from recurring.

Exercises and stretches may:

  • relieve pain
  • increase range of motion
  • reduce inflammation
  • strengthen muscles around the joint to help you avoid future injury

Exercise for pain relief

Research supports the following types of exercises as helping to reduce pain and improve outcomes for people with tennis elbow:

  • Eccentric exercises: Muscles lengthen under tension when performing eccentric exercises. A 2014 study found that these exercises reduced pain in people with tennis elbow. Wrist extensor strengthening, a specific type of eccentric exercise, may help lessen tennis elbow pain, according to a 2015 research review.
  • Isometric exercises: In isometric exercises, muscles tense up and contract without visibly moving. A 2018 study found that isometric wrist extension exercises reduced tennis elbow pain. However, this exercise alone may not otherwise improve the condition.
  • Static stretching exercises: For most effective treatment and pain relief, a 2013 comparison study noted that eccentric exercises should be combined with static stretching exercises.

Multiple studies have indicated that aquatic exercises and strength training may be effective for reducing osteoarthritis pain in the knees and hips. However, more research is needed on exercises to reduce pain from elbow osteoarthritis and other elbow disorders.

Exercise safety

It’s important to talk to your healthcare provider about what types and level of exercise will work best for you before starting any exercise program.

Once you begin, keep the following tips in mind:

  • Be gentle and stop if you feel sharp pain.
  • Avoid overstretching or exercising too much when recovering from an injury.
  • Talk to your healthcare provider if your pain doesn’t improve or gets worse, or if there’s increased swelling or redness around your elbow.

Exercise often plays an essential role in recovering from an elbow disorder.

Learn how to perform exercises to help:

What are the risk factors for elbow pain?

  • improper sport techniques
  • using the improper-sized grip on sports equipment
  • using incorrect tension on racquets
  • improper warming up and stretching 
  • not using elbow padding

Is there a cure/medications for elbow pain?

When it comes to elbow pain, the answer is a resounding "yes!" There are many things you can do to help alleviate elbow pain, and some of them are more effective than others. In this article, we'll discuss some of the most common treatments for elbow pain and how they work.

Arthritis is one of the most common causes of elbow pain. This condition causes inflammation in your joints which leads to stiffness, swelling, and pain. If you have arthritis in your elbows, there are several ways to treat it:

1. Take a warm bath with Epsom salt or baking soda added to it. These solutions will increase blood flow to your sore joints so that they can heal faster.

2. Use a heating pad on your elbows at night before going to bed so that you can relax and get some much-needed rest from all that chronic pain.

3. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs): these are the most common and effective treatments for inflammation such as pain, swelling, and stiffness. It is available in over-the-counter (OTC) form or prescription strength.

4. Steroid injections: this is a good option if you have severe inflammation or swelling and stiffness. These injections will not help with the pain, but they can help with the inflammation and swelling. This can also be done in combination with physical therapy to help you get back to your normal activities quickly.

5. Nerve block: these are performed by an orthopedic surgeon who injects an anesthetic into the nerves that supply your elbow joint to numb it temporarily so that you won’t feel any pain while moving your arm around during surgery or physical therapy sessions afterward.

Pain in your elbow when you move it around,Pain when you try to straighten your arm (extension),Pain when you bend your arm (flexion),Weakness in one or both arms
Tennis elbow (lateral epicondylitis),Golfer's elbow (medial epicondylitis),Lateral collateral ligament sprain,Medial collateral ligament sprain,Bursitis of the olecranon bursa (bursitis of the elbow),Impingement syndrome of the elbow
Cortisone injections,Anti-inflammatory drugs,Pain relievers

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