Definition of elbow pain
Elbow pain usually isn’t serious, but because you use your elbow in so many ways, elbow pain can definitely affect your life. Your elbow is a complex joint that allows you to extend and flex your forearm and rotate your hand and forearm. Most movements are a combination of these actions, and you may sometimes find it difficult to describe what exactly brings on the pain.
Causes of elbow pain
Most elbow pain results from overuse injuries. Many sports, hobbies and jobs require repetitive hand, wrist or arm movements. Elbow pain may occasionally be due to arthritis, but in general, your elbow joint is much less prone to wear-and-tear damage than are many other joints.
Common causes of elbow pain include:
- Broken arm
- Cubital tunnel syndrome, which occurs when the ulnar nerve on the inside of your elbow is irritated or injured
- Dislocated elbow
- Elbow fracture
- Golfer’s elbow
- Ligament sprains and tears
- Little league elbow syndrome (pitcher’s elbow) — an injury mainly affecting children and rapidly growing adolescents involved in throwing sports such as baseball
- Olecranon bursitis — inflammation of a small sac of fluid (olecranon bursa) on the tip of your elbow
- Osteochondritis dissecans
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Radial tunnel syndrome, which occurs when the radial nerve becomes compressed just beyond your elbow (sometimes called resistant tennis elbow)
- Sprains and strains
- Stress fractures
- Tennis elbow
- Throwing injuries
- Trapped nerves
When to see a doctor
Seek emergency care if you have:
- An obvious deformity in your elbow
- A protruding bone
Call your doctor right away if you have:
- Severe pain, swelling and bruising around the joint
- Trouble moving your elbow normally, using your arm or turning your arm from palm up to palm down and vice versa
Schedule an office visit if you have:
- Elbow pain that doesn’t improve after several days of home care
- Pain that occurs even when you’re not using your arm
- Increasing redness, swelling or pain in the injured area
Most elbow pain improves with simple home treatments, such as:
- Rest. Avoid the activity that caused your injury.
- Ice. Place an ice pack on the sore area for 15 to 20 minutes three times a day.
- Compression. Use a compression bandage to reduce swelling.
- Elevation. Keep your arm elevated to help reduce swelling.