The elbow is a complex joint that allows you to perform pushing and pulling movements and to rotate your forearm. Elbow pain can be caused by injury or strain to the bones in your elbow joint, the surrounding muscles or the tendons, which attach the muscles to the bones. Elbow pain may also be due to damage arising from the elbow joint’s network of nerves, blood vessels and ligaments. On occasion, problems in your neck, shoulder and upper arm, or your forearm and wrist can result in elbow pain.
Elbow pain can be caused by a variety of problems. A common cause in adults is tendinitis, an inflammation and injury to the tendons – soft tissues that attach muscle to bone.
People who play racquet sports are most likely to injure the tendons on the outside of the elbow. This condition is commonly called tennis elbow. Golfers are more likely to injure the tendons on the inside of the elbow. Other common causes of elbow tendinitis are gardening, playing baseball, using a screwdriver, or overusing your wrist and arm.
The most common type of elbow pain is known as ‘tennis elbow’. ‘Golfer’s elbow’ is a less common but similar overuse injury. Despite their names, these injuries can occur as a result of a range of physical activities – racquet sports, rowing, canoeing, weightlifting, hockey, wrestling, swimming – as well as repetitive work tasks undertaken in a variety of occupations.
Some of the many conditions and events that may contribute to elbow injuries include:
- Lack of strength or flexibility in the forearm muscles
- Lack of strength in the shoulder muscles
- Instability of the elbow joint
- Poor technique during sporting activities (especially tennis and golf) that puts too much strain on the elbow joint
- Inappropriate sporting equipment, such as using a heavy tennis racquet or having the wrong sized grip on a tennis racquet or golf club
- Repetitive movements of the hands and arms, such as working on an assembly line
Continuously making the muscles and joint take heavy loads
- Other factors such as neck symptoms or nerve irritation.
Some of the symptoms of elbow pain include:
- Pain in the elbow joint, especially when straightening the arm
- Dull ache when at rest
- Pain when making a fist (medial epicondylitis)
- Pain when opening the fingers (lateral epicondylitis)
- Soreness around the affected elbow bump
- Weak grip
- Difficulties and pain when trying to grasp objects, especially with the arm stretched out.
When treating elbow, the first thing to decide is the degree of the trauma. If the patient comes in with severe pain, swelling and decreased flexibility, that is usually labeled as “acute” and treatment is mostly geared towards reduction of the inflammation.
Physical therapy is very effective at the acute stage and with our patients a treatment protocol will include such things as ultrasound, taping, and gentle exercises – all helpful in reducing the symptoms. Protection of the joint is also important so bracing is encouraged.
After the acute stage passes, physical therapy treatment at ABC Physical Therapy is now geared towards manual work that is performed by a physical therapist, stretching and gradual strengthening of the muscles. This is coupled with ergonomic assessments and posture training by one of our specialties here at the physical therapy department of ABC Physical Therapy.
Effective treatment is great once you already have a problem, but prevention is even better. If you have a tendency to work long hours with equipment, it would be an excellent idea to receive a periodic assessment by a physical therapist. At ABC Physical Therapy, we will check your ergonomics, discuss your lifestyle and issue you with simple stretches to perform at your desk as well as other home remedies. Don’t continue to live with elbow pain. Let us help you to correct the condition and help prevent it in the future.