Elbow joint is one of the most active joints in our bodies. It is hard to imagine our life with any disability of elbows. However, very often people face problems with their elbow joints that make them suffer. As a rule, these troubles include injuries, trauma of a bone, ligament or joint diseases.
Severe elbow pain is a very common complaint that makes people seek medical help. There are many reasons for elbow pain, even if there is no injury. That is why it is important to make a correct diagnosis as soon as possible, because elbow pain treatment depends on the initial reason of the pain.
Let us consider ten most common elbow pain causes:
- Arthritis of the elbow;
- Joint arthrosis or osteoarthritis;
- Lateral epicondylitis or “tennis elbow”;
- Medial epicondylitis or “golfers elbow”;
- Tunnel syndrome;
- Radial nerve syndrome;
- Bone fracture or crack, dislocation or stretching;
- Reflected pain, caused by a damaged segment of the cervical-thoracic spine.
This disease can cause extreme pain in your elbow, not only when it is bent, but also when gripping or straightening your arm. Arthritis becomes a reason for elbow pain in approximately 10% of all cases. Very often, if you have arthritis, not only your elbow joint is affected, but also some other joints of your body are inflamed.
Arthritis pain can be rather acute. It has a constant nature. Pain bothers you not only when you are active, but also when you rest. Sometimes it can even deprive you of sleep. In addition, no matter what type of arthritis you have, your elbow joint is swollen and becomes hot at touch. In some form of arthritis the inflamed joint becomes red or even crimson.
Rheumatoid arthritis has its peculiarity. It often becomes chronic and causes bilateral inflammation. If you have septic arthritis, you can feel shooting pain. This is the main sign that indicates that you have a purulent form of arthritis. It means that somewhere inside your elbow joint there is pus that has to be removed.
Some patients with arthritis also develop bursitis.
Osteoarthritis of the Elbow
Osteoarthritis of the elbow occurs in about 10% of all cases of elbow pain. Osteoarthritis pain is mild and occurs only in completely bent or straightened position of your arm. When you move your arm, you can often hear crunchy sound in your elbow joint.
Gradually the mobility of your elbow joint decreases and it becomes hard to completely bend and difficult to straighten your limb. In severe cases of arthrosis, your arm stays slightly bent all the time. At this stage your elbow joint deforms, though the affected joint remains not too painful and there is no burning sensation in it.
Usually this disease affects a big toe or wrist, but it can attack elbows as well.
Typical for gout is sudden persistent pain attack that lasts for several days. Your joint becomes swollen, red, hot and rigid. This happens due to accumulation of large amounts of uric acid in your blood and joint cavities. It can also begin after taking drugs that increase the levels of uric acid.
To cure gout you should stick to a special diet. When you have a gouty attack, ask your doctor for pain relief medication.
Epicondylitis of the elbow joint is a reason for approximately 40% of all cases of sharp pain in elbow area. This disease can occur in people of any age due to overload or injury of the forearm tendon. The characteristic feature of this disease is pain in elbow joint resulting from the load on your arm while carrying heavy things and weight lifting. Also pain is triggered by movements that are performed with a rotational force, when you turn a lever, a wrench or a screwdriver, as well as when you do sport such as hand fight, playing tennis, etc.
Usual daily movements when bending or straightening your elbow, performed without a load or resistance do not cause discomfort or pain. You also feel no pain when you rest and do not move your arm.
If you have epicondylitis, the mobility of your elbow joint is not changed. Externally your elbow looks perfectly healthy and not swollen. When a doctor touches it, you feel pain only in joint condyles. They are the bulging bones on the both sides of your elbow joint.
Medial epicondylitis is similar to lateral epicondylitis. Despite the name “golfer’s elbow”, medial epicondylitis is often develops in those who have nothing to do with golf. This disease can affect left or right elbow. Pain is felt around your elbow joint.
This disease is caused by a heavy load on your forearm muscles and tendons, injury or damage of the joint or wearing out of tendons that leads to degeneration of joint tissues.
Treating epicondylitis includes using NSAIDs, physiotherapy and moderate exercises. When traditional remedies do not help, doctors can turn to surgery that consists of removal of dead tissue and tendons and adjusting your tendon to another place.
Bursitis is an inflammation of periarticular serous bags. One of the most prominent symptoms of elbow bursitis is a spherical new growth that appears on the rear surface of your elbow. It is flexible, filled with fluid and it does not hurt when you touch it.
There are several reasons for bursitis:
- prolonged pressure on your joints;
- some diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis and gout.
Diagnostics of this disease involves physical examination, X-rays and biopsy. If the diagnosis is stated, the doctor starts treatment that includes using elbow pads and administration of painkillers, other NSAIDs and antibiotics in case of infection.
The Ulnar Tunnel Syndrome
This disease develops due to entrapment of the ulnar nerve, which goes around the elbow joint on the inside of your arm. In this case the pain can be “shooting” and spread throughout your forearm or you may feel numbness or tingling in your fingers.
This syndrome usually develops in programmers or office workers, who have to spend much time in a sitting position with their elbows put on a hard surface. Tunnel syndrome can develop when your nerve is too close to the bone. For example, if you put your elbows on the table, your bone presses directly on your nerve. When you work at computer, you hold your elbow in a bent position for a long time and this causes tension of your nerve and results in pain.
For the diagnosis of ulnar tunnel syndrome a doctor checks the strength of your muscles, nerve irritation in the elbow when bending and straightening your arm. To confirm the diagnosis and determine the stage of the disease your doctor can send you on electromyography to study nerve conduction velocity.
Treatment of this syndrome consists of changing your elbow positions during its contact with solid surfaces, holding your arms in a straightened position during sleep. Sometimes it is necessary to do a surgery to move your nerve or to change the shape of the medial epicondyle of your humerus.
Radial Nerve Syndrome
It is a rare disease characterized by compression of the radial nerve. Quite often this syndrome is confused with lateral epicondylitis.
If you have this syndrome, pain develops at the back of your elbow joint and increases when you straighten your arm or grip objects. The joint itself becomes stiff and its motion activity is limited.
Radial nerve syndrome develops due to compression of the radial nerve, for example, when your radial tunnel is too narrow. It can also be triggered by repetitive actions performed with effort, as well as a strong shock can lead to the development of the disease.
Diagnosis in this case may be erroneous, because even with the help of different tests it is very difficult to detect differences between the radial nerve syndrome and “tennis elbow”.
If you have this syndrome, you should avoid actions that provoke elbow pain. It is better to use a plastic clamp to immobilize your elbow during sleep. Do therapeutic exercises. Sometimes this syndrome may require surgery.
Bone Fracture, Crack or Dislocation
They occur as a result of accidents or trauma. Usually you feel sudden severe pain right after the injury. Your joint becomes immobilized and you are unable to stretch your arm. Your fingers become numb and you have bruises in the joint area.
If the fraction is proved by physical examination and X-rays, your doctor will put a dressing or plaster. In severe case you may need a surgery (for open and closed fractures).
Dislocation is observed in case when the bones forming the joint change their position. You feel sharp pain in your elbow, have a swelling in this area and you can’t bend your arm.
The most common cause of displacement is falling on your arm. Treatment includes placing your bones back, application of ice and using bandages.
Referred Pain from the Damaged Spine Segment
Referred pain emanating from the damaged segment of your cervical-thoracic spine provides about 37% of all cases of pain in both elbows. Logically, that there are no changes in the outer appearance or inner elbow structure, besides your natural range of motions is not limited.
However, a patient with this problem has pains even in state of rest. Sometimes pain disturbs you at night. Painful sensations emanate in your elbow from your neck or shoulder blade region, as if they pierce your shoulder and elbow area.
So, if you have pain in your elbow, visit a doctor. You can address the following specialists:
Obviously, a variety of factors can cause elbow pain. That is why it is so important to visit a doctor as soon as possible.