Your elbow is the joint that connects three bones in the middle of your arm:
Humerus (upper arm bone)
Ulna (inner forearm bone)
Radius (outer forearm bone)
It functions like a hinge, allowing your arm to move forward and backward. The elbow also twists inward and outward, allowing your arm to rotate. This varied movement requires assistance from a variety of other structures near the elbow:
Muscles above and below the elbow attach via tendons, allowing the joint to flex, extend and rotate the arm
Strong connective tissue provides flexibility and stability in the joint
A small fluid sack at the tip of the elbow, called a bursa, provides cushioning and protects the joint, tendons and ligaments from irritation or damage
Blood vessels in the region ensure there is always an adequate blood supply for movement
Nerves communicate signals that allow for your desired movement to occur
With so many complex structures working together to ensure proper function for your elbow, there are many ways in which an injury can occur. If any of these structures wear out or sustain damage, you may experience elbow pain.
Common Causes of Elbow Pain
There are many potential causes of elbow pain. A proper diagnosis is crucial to ensuring you receive the most effective treatment for your condition.
In some instances, your elbow pain may be caused by an injury associated with a one-time event. These include:
Fractures – A sudden blow to the elbow may cause one of your arm bones to break at the joint. This most commonly occurs in sports injuries, vehicle accidents and serious falls.
Dislocations – A dislocated elbow occurs when one of the bones connected to this joint gets knocked out of place. This a common injury when you stick out your hand to brace yourself during a fall.
Sprains and strains – Stretched or torn ligaments result in a sprain. Stretched or torn muscles result in a strain. These injuries occur when you place too much pressure on your muscles and ligaments, which is common when lifting heavy objects or participating in sports.
Repetitive motions can result in significant wear and tear to your elbow. These injuries often occur in work environments or from athletic activities, and they can be quite painful. Common examples of repetitive motion injuries include:
Bursitis – The bursa providing cushioning to your elbow can fill with fluid and become swollen from repetitive movements, causing redness and sensitivity. It can also be damaged from trauma associated with a fall.
Tendonitis – The tendons in your elbow can become damaged from overuse. “Tennis elbow” is a type of tendonitis that develops on the outside of the elbow. “Golfer’s elbow” is a type of tendonitis affecting the inside of the joint.
You may also develop repetitive use injuries associated with pronation and supination (rotation at the elbow) or from flexion and extension movements. These motions can cause irritation and damage to the muscle, resulting in increased pain.
Damage to nerves in the elbow are common. Common types of nerve injuries include:
Cubital tunnel syndrome – This issue is caused by damage to the ulnar nerve. It is often associated with numbness or burning sensations along the inner arm extending down to the hand and fingers. In severe cases, you may experience weakness of the hand.
Radial tunnel syndrome – This issue is associated with damage to the radial nerve and causes numbness and burning along the outside of the forearm and elbow.
Arthritis can develop from inflammation of the elbow joint, causing pain and stiffness which gets worse over time. The most common types of arthritis impacting the elbow include:
Rheumatoid arthritis – This occurs when your immune system attacks your elbow joint, causing swelling and pain.
Osteoarthritis – This develops when the cartilage in your elbow breaks down, causing the bones to rub together. Osteoarthritis results in pain and stiffness in the elbow.
Infection and Blood Clots
While less common, you may experience elbow pain from infection in the joint or the tissue surrounding the joint. Blood clots in the arm can also cause elbow pain. These conditions can also result in swelling and fever.
Treatment for Elbow Pain
At the Denver Spine and Pain Institute, we recommend conservative treatments whenever possible. Depending on the specific cause of your elbow pain, your treatment may include:
Physical therapy – The goals of physical therapy are to improve mobility, decrease pain and address any mechanical or muscular conditions that may be contributing to your elbow pain.
Medication – Anti-inflammatory medications and muscle relaxants can help provide short-term relief of symptoms, making it easier for you to participate in physical therapy.
Injections – If the combination of physical therapy and medications don’t provide enough relief, injections may deliver the long-term relief of symptoms you desire. Our specialists will attempt to identify the most likely pain generator and deliver medication via injection to that area with the use of image guidance. The most common types of injections in the elbow are joint and tendon injections using local anesthetics and steroid.
Percutaneous needle fasciotomy – This treatment is delivered using the Tenex device and is often effective when treating tendonitis.
If these conservative treatments fail to provide adequate relief, surgery may be necessary. Our team will perform all appropriate diagnostic testing prior to your surgical consultation to determine the precise cause and location of your pain. These diagnostic tests will provide your surgeon with the information necessary to plan your procedure.
Restoring a Pain-Free Life
Chronic elbow pain can significantly impact the quality of your life, making it hard to perform routine daily tasks and participate in your favorite activities. Fortunately, you don’t have to live with this pain any longer. At the Denver Spine and Pain Institute, we offer the most advanced treatments to alleviate your elbow pain, helping you enjoy life again.
We’re the only sports, back and pain specialists in the country providing a Connected Care Approach™ specifically designed to get you back to enjoying life faster. This approach involves:
A full spectrum of care, including physicians, physical therapy, massage, diet and lifestyle coaching, behavioral health, research, and cutting edge treatment options
Developing caring and therapeutic relationships that address your unique needs
Discussing options and providing the guidance you need from a dedicated healthcare partner
Mobilizing an experienced team who coordinates your care program
Schedule an Appointment
Please contact us today to schedule an appointment. The Denver Spine and Pain Institute serves patients in Denver and the surrounding areas of Colorado.