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An overview of elbow pain

We cover everything you need to know about different types of elbow pain.

Elbow pain: everything you need to know

Elbow pain can be frustrating and debilitating, preventing you from enjoying regular everyday activities or completing usual household chores. We take a closer look at elbow pain, its many types, causes and common treatment options.

Elbow pain is a very common ailment. It occurs when the joint between your upper arm bone and forearm – your elbow – hurts.

Elbow pain can be debilitating and unsettling, especially if you're unsure how to manage it. It can also impact your everyday life, making tasks like driving, doing household activities and going to work extremely difficult.

Find out more about the causes of elbow pain, and what can be done to manage and treat it below.

If you are have elbow pain, you might experience:

  • A dull, aching pain;
  • Sharp pain;
  • Tenderness around your elbow;
  • A feeling of warmth on your elbow;
  • Swelling around your elbow;
  • Difficulty straightening or using your arm;
  • A loss of feeling in the elbow, arm or hand;
  • Increased pain when you press or touch your elbow;
  • Feeling like your “funny bone” has been hit and
  • Weakness or tingling.

You can speak with your Consultant about which symptoms indicate which joint pain conditions, as well as how to manage them.

Elbow pain has a number of common causes. These include:

  • Trauma or injury: This refers to a direct blow to your elbow. This can happen when playing sports, if you fall or are involved in an accident. It can cause a fractured elbow or other elbow issues.

  • Arthritis (osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis): Arthritis causes inflammation and swelling in your joints, often resulting in severe pain and reduced mobility. Both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis in your elbow joint cause elbow pain.

  • Bursitis (popeye elbow): Bursae are fluid-filled sacs that prevent wear and tear between your joints. Bursitis happens when your bursa is inflamed or irritated. If the bursae in your elbow are irritated, it can result in elbow pain.

  • Tendonitis: This happens when one of your tendons becomes inflamed and swollen. It can cause joint pain, stiffness and reduced mobility. If you experience tendonitis in your elbow, you will likely experience elbow pain as a result.

  • Ulnar nerve damage or compression: A trapped ulnar nerve occurs when surrounding tissues – for example, bones, muscles or tendons – apply too much pressure to the nerve, pinching it.

When you meet with your Consultant, they will discuss your elbow pain in depth. This will help them reach an accurate diagnosis. They might ask:

  • Does your pain have an obvious cause or trigger, or did it appear without warning?

  • Have you ever had a similar type of pain in your elbow?

  • Have you had a previous injury to your elbow?

  • Do you have any other symptoms (even if they’re seemingly unrelated to your elbow pain)?

Depending on your symptoms, other diagnostic tests might be used to determine what is causing your elbow pain. These tests could include an elbow X-Ray, an ultrasound or an MRI. Your Consultant will explain these tests to you if they are needed.

We treat people of all ages and backgrounds, ranging from elite sports people to those who want to improve their day-to-day quality of life.

We have an expert team on site to support your treatment, including physiotherapists, sports and exercise Consultants, radiologists, neurologists and more, to make sure your recovery is as efficient as possible.

If you are coming to us directly (rather than via GP or insurance referral), we offer competitively priced self-pay packages, along with payment plan options to help make private healthcare accessible and affordable for all.

There are several different ways to treat elbow pain, depending on the cause. Some of the most common treatments to reduce elbow pain include:

Extracorporeal shockwave therapy (ESWT)

Extracorporeal shockwave therapy (ESWT) involves using medical device to pass shockwaves through the skin to the injured part of the body. It aims to increase blood flow and help to heal damaged tissues.

A course of ESWT usually requires three to four sessions, each taking about 30 minutes. ESWT is carried out at an outpatient appointment and requires no injections, medication or surgery.

Steroid injections

Steroids can reduce inflammation, so injecting this medicine into the affected area may ease your symptoms. You might be given a local anaesthetic for the procedure.

The relief offered by anti inflammatory injections is temporary, so you will likely have to have them every few months.

Tennis elbow surgery

If you have tried other treatments across several months and are still in significant pain, your Consultant might recommend elbow surgery.

During the operation, your surgeon will remove any damaged tendons from your elbow. This should take around half an hour, and you should be able to get back to your regular activities within a few weeks, depending on how the elbow heals.

Elbow pain exercises

According to the National Institute of Health Research, physiotherapy services are an important way to prevent and reduce the negative impacts of musculoskeletal conditions, improving patients’ lives.

Our physiotherapists can work with you to create a programme of exercises that will help your elbow to get back to normal. Starting off gently, these exercises will help to build strength and restore motion to your arm.

Your physiotherapist will recommend specific movements for you to do several times a day. It is important to follow your exercise regime diligently to reap its benefits.

Learn more about physiotherapy and elbow pain exercises here.

Elbow pain can be frustrating and painful, but it’s important to know that good help is available. You are not alone.

Receiving care from one of our Consultants can help you to recover as quickly as possible. They will assess and diagnose your fracture and then discuss the treatment recommended for your specific situation.

To schedule your visit, book a specialist appointment online today or call us on 0141 300 5009.