Elbow pain can cause a lot of problems with daily life, as the elbow is an important part of the arm that is essential to arm movement and function. The function of the elbow is to bend and straighten, to bring objects towards and away from our bodies. The elbow joint is formed by the arm bone (humerus) and the forearm bones (ulna and radius) coming together to form a joint.
This joint is stabilized by ligaments that lie on the inner and outer aspects of the joint itself. Surrounding the joint are muscles and tendons that help elbow and wrist movements. Also passing around the joint are critical blood vessels and nerves which supply the forearm and wrist. At the elbow, the inner nerve of the arm (ulna) passes very close to the skin, while lying on hard bone, making the elbow a common site of injury.
Causes of elbow pain
Elbow pain can be caused by injuries or by non-injurious causes. As the elbow lies relatively close to the skin, it is a common site of injuries such as falls and motor vehicle accidents. Some examples of injuries around the elbow include,
Fractures to the bones forming the elbow joint
Dislocations of the joint, which can occur together with the fractures
Ligament injuries, which can be the result of elbow dislocations
Non-injury causes of elbow pain tend to be from overuse, and may be the result of manual work or sport. Examples include,
Overuse of the outer tendons of the elbow (tennis elbow)
Overuse of the inner tendons of the elbow (golfer’s elbow)
Overuse of the back tendon of the elbow (triceps tendinopathy)
Worn out elbow joints (osteoarthritis of the elbow)
Painful lumps related to conditions such as gout, infections and rheumatoid arthritis especially at the back of the elbow
What other symptoms can be associated with elbow pain?
Besides pain, you might be experiencing other symptoms related to your elbow problems. This might include,
Swelling of either the entire elbow or part of the elbow
Stiffness of the elbow, with patients being unable to fully bend of straighten their elbows
Redness caused by inflammation of infection
Weakness of the muscles moving the elbow, with patients being unable to lift objects
The elbow feeling loose and giving way, such as when one attempts to push off on a table when attempting to stand
Numbness at the hand can sometimes be caused by problems at the elbow
How is elbow pain diagnosed?
Your doctor will first conduct a medical interview during which he/she will ask about your symptoms and your unique functional requirements. The doctor will then perform a focused medical examination on the elbow and associated regions in order to come up with a provisional diagnosis.
Based on the results of the clinical evaluation, the doctor will then proceed to order some radiological investigations. This will include X-rays of the elbow, which will allow him to assess for bone problems. In some cases, additional investigations such as ultrasound scans and MRI scans may be necessary.
How is elbow pain treated?
Depending on the underlying cause of your pain, your doctor may offer a combination of treatment, which may include,
Medications to relieve your elbow pain
A course of physiotherapy to improve range of motion, strength and function of the elbow
Injections of steroid and local anaesthetic for tendon overuse conditions around the elbow
Surgery to fix broken bones in the elbow
Surgery to repair or reconstruct torn ligaments in the elbow
Surgery to treat recalcitrant tendon problems in the elbow
Surgery to replace the elbow (total elbow replacement) due to either severe fractures or osteoarthritis of the elbow
 Jarrett, P. (n.d.). Elbow anatomy. Retrieved January 27, 2022, from https://murdochorthopaedic.com.au/our-surgeons/paul-jarrett/patient-information-guides/elbow-anatomy/