Common Elbow Conditions

Common Elbow Conditions

The elbow consists of three bones — the upper arm’s humerus and the forearm’s ulna and radius. These bones are connected by cartilage, ligaments and tendons, which hold the joint in place. Brachial arteries provide blood flow, and nerves ensure function. Elbows also consist of cushioning structures known as bursae.

Disease or injury to any of these components can lead to various problems and pain. Elbow pain can make everyday movements difficult, so it’s important to identify the cause. Elbow injuries don’t often require surgery. In most cases, rest and at-home treatments can encourage recovery. When symptoms persist for weeks, it’s important to visit a health care practitioner.

This article explores common elbow conditions and injuries to help you recognize symptoms and know when to seek treatment.


Bursitis is a condition that causes inflammation of the protective bursa that surrounds joints. In the elbow joint, it affects the olecranon bursa. Overuse can cause these fluid-filled cushion structures to become swollen and irritated. Trauma from an injury and infections can also lead to bursitis. It is common in athletes and people with physically demanding jobs. Certain medical conditions can also lead to bursitis.

The primary symptoms of this elbow condition are pain and visible swelling. Pain can occur suddenly or worsen over time and usually heighten during movement. When an infection is the cause, these symptoms may be accompanied by discoloration and warmth.

Treatment Options

Treatment Options

Treatment options will depend on the cause. When overuse or injury leads to bursitis, home treatments might provide relief. A combination of rest and over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications can reduce pain and inflammation. It’s also essential to immobilize the joint while recovering.

If pain and inflammation persist for several weeks, you should visit your health care practitioner. They may recommend a corticosteroid injection to reduce inflammation or remove excess fluid around the bursa to provide relief. If an infection is the cause, you will need an antibiotic treatment from your health care provider. In rare cases, surgical intervention is required to remove the damaged bursa.

Cubital Tunnel Syndrome

Damage to the ulnar nerve can cause cubital tunnel syndrome. This condition is usually caused by overuse and a habit of leaning on the elbow. Injuries and previous fractures can increase the risk of capital tunnel syndrome, while arthritis and bone spurs are also linked to this condition.

Cubital tunnel syndrome can cause symptoms like numbness, tingling sensations and hand and elbow pain. Because this condition affects the nerve, a weak hand grip is another common symptom.

Treatment Options

Cubital tunnel syndrome is usually treatable with rest, immobilization and an elbow pad. Over-the-counter medications can help manage pain. Nerve gliding exercises, which include gentle arm stretches and bending motions, can help strengthen the irritated nerve. If these treatments don’t provide relief, your health care provider may recommend surgery.

Golfer’s Elbow

Also known as medial epicondylitis, golfer’s elbow occurs when elbow muscles and tendons are damaged. As the name suggests, repetitive and forceful wrist and hand movements like those involved in golfing can lead to this elbow condition. Incorrect lifting and throwing motions can also cause excess stress on these muscles and tendons.

The symptoms range from pain and stiffness to numbness and tingling. Hand and wrist weakness are also quite common. Pain symptoms can occur suddenly or worsen with movements. Pain typically manifests on the inner side of the elbow, although it can extend to the forearm.

Treatment Options

Rest, a splint or elbow brace, cold compress applications and gentle arm stretches are all ways to reduce pain and discomfort. Surgical intervention is rarely necessary, although your health care practitioner might recommend the TENEX ultrasound procedure if your symptoms persist or worsen in six to 12 months. This minimally invasive procedure removes scar tissue around the affected tendon or muscle.

Tennis Elbow

Also known as lateral epicondylitis, tennis elbow is similar to golfer’s elbow, although tennis elbow involves inflammation of the outer elbow while golfer’s elbow affects the inner elbow. It is one of the most common causes of elbow pain and is caused by repetitive movements commonly performed in sports like tennis. Incorrect sporting movements and weak hand and shoulder muscles can increase the risk of developing this elbow condition.

Because tennis elbow affects the tendons on the outside of the elbow, wrist and finger movements can become difficult. Common symptoms include pain on the outside of the elbow that may extend to the forearm.

Treatment Options

Tennis elbow home treatments include rest and immobilization with a brace or splint. Cold compresses, gentle stretching exercises and anti-inflammatory medications can also help. When these treatments don’t provide relief, corticosteroid injections can reduce inflammation. In rare cases, TENEX procedures can help break up scar tissue with a type of ultrasound.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Certain diseases cause elbow pain as well. Rheumatoid arthritis is a type of autoimmune disease that affects the joints by attacking tissue. This condition causes the synovial tissue around the joint to thicken, leading to inflammation and pain. These effects often reduce joint mobility. Rheumatoid arthritis can cause permanent damage to joint tissues over time. With prolonged damage of protective tissue, joint bones begin to rub against one another, which can wear down bones.

This condition can cause swelling, difficulty moving the elbow, joint locking and pain in other joints like shoulders. Other symptoms can include fatigue, fever and weakness.

Treatment Options

Rheumatoid arthritis treatment typically involves a combination of at-home remedies like cold or heat compresses, gentle stretch exercises, rest and minimizing joint use. Over-the-counter pain and anti-inflammatory medications can help manage discomfort. Disease-modifying anti-rheumatic medications are a key medical treatment for this condition.

Physical therapy for elbow pain associated with arthritis is also beneficial. In severe cases, surgical intervention may help remove damaged joint tissue. Joint replacement procedures are another surgical approach.

Osteochondritis Dessicans

This joint condition degrades the bone beneath the joint cartilage. The bone breaks away from the cartilage, causing mobility issues. The exact cause is unknown, although repetitive trauma may impact blood flow and lead to bone degradation. Repeated minor injuries to the elbow may cause this condition, while genetic factors may also play a role.

The symptoms of osteochondritis dessicans can include pain, swelling, joint locking and joint weakness. Loss of mobility is also common.

Treatment Options

In some cases, osteochondritis dessicans can heal without treatment. Pain and inflammation medications can help relieve pain. If symptoms persist beyond six to 12 weeks, mobility aids like crutches and a brace are beneficial. Physical therapy and surgical procedures are sometimes necessary.

Surgery involves drilling a hole into the bone and cartilage to encourage blood flow. The bone and cartilage are secured with pins and screws. Damaged tissue is then replaced with grafts.

Other Common Elbow Injuries

Other common causes of elbow pain range from biceps and triceps injuries to dislocations and fractures. Biceps and triceps injuries can occur when the elbow is forced into a straight position against significant resistance. Carrying heavy loads can cause this injury. Triceps injuries can occur after throwing motions or when the elbow is forcefully extended.

Biceps and triceps injuries can cause a bulge to form near the elbow. Weakness, pain and reduced motion are also common. Rest, cold compresses and elevating the arm can provide relief. Over-the-counter pain and inflammation medications are also helpful.

Dislocations and fractures are common in impact injuries and accidents. These injuries cause severe and sudden pain accompanied by swelling and bruising. Impact injuries require urgent medical attention. Dislocated joints need to be reset, and fractured bones must be placed in a brace or sling to encourage healing.

Visit the Hand Center of Louisiana to Treat Elbow Pain

Visit the Hand Center of Louisiana to Treat Elbow Pain

Elbow injuries can make everyday tasks a painful challenge. If you’re experiencing discomfort and decreased range of motion in your joint, diagnosis and treatment can help provide relief.

Our team of expert physicians at The Hand Center of Louisiana specializes in treating the hand and upper extremities. We provide comprehensive medical evaluations to diagnose conditions and tailor treatment plans for each patient to ensure optimal care. Request an appointment online today to get started.