Most of us have had an elbow injury at some point – if only just a knock to the “funny bone,” which can cause an uncomfortable shooting sensation along the forearm (although this is usually short-lived). However, some elbow injuries can be more problematic and require medical attention.
The elbow is a complicated joint, where the bottom of the humerus (upper arm bone) meets the bones of the forearm (the ulna and the radius) to form a hinge joint. The elbow not only allows these bones to move forward and backward but allows them to rotate in a twisting motion.
Your elbow is made up of bone, cartilage, and ligaments with muscles and tendons to help the joint move. When the elbow is damaged it can cause pain, swelling, numbness, tingling, and weakness and can limit your range of movement.
What Injuries Can Affect the Elbow?
Sudden Elbow Injuries
Some elbow injuries occur suddenly as the result of a direct blow to the area. Pain is usually felt immediately and bruising or swelling can follow. Sudden elbow injuries may include:
- Dislocation. This occurs when one of the bones in the elbow joint gets knocked out of place, usually the result of putting your arms out during a fall. It can cause severe pain and swelling and requires immediate medical treatment. Young children can also suffer from dislocated elbows if swung by their forearms – a condition known as nursemaid’s elbow.
- Fractures. More commonly known as bone breaks, fractures are usually the result of a sudden blow to the elbow. A fracture can be extremely tiny (what is known as a hairline fracture), or it may involve complete breaks of the bone. Treatment may involve casting without surgery, but more complicated breaks will require surgical intervention to assure the bones heal together properly.
- Elbow sprains and strains. These injuries involve the tearing or overstretching of ligaments (known as sprains) or muscles (which are called strains). These injuries usually occur when you put a lot of pressure on your muscles such as when lift heavy objects or strenuous exercise without proper warm-up beforehand. Sprains and strains can be treated with rest, ice, and stretching and strengthening exercises once the pain is gone. If your pain persists, talk to your orthopedic doctor.
Progressive Elbow Injuries
Other elbow injuries can accumulate over time and are often a result of repetitive movement that places stress on a joint and gradually gets worse.
- Tendonitis. This is a painful condition that occurs when tendons become inflamed or irritated. Tendonitis in the elbow is usually the result of overuse, which overloads the tendons and they become damaged causing pain and tenderness around the elbow joint. Symptoms usually develop gradually and worsen over time especially during activities using the forearm. Tennis elbow, golfer’s elbow, and pitcher’s elbow are all forms of tendonitis. Many cases of tendonitis respond to rest and nonoperative treatments such as icing, anti-inflammatory medication including cortisone injections, immobilization, and physical therapy. If left untreated, tendonitis can cause more serious problems that require surgery.
- Bursitis. This elbow injury is due to inflammation of the bursa, which are small sacs of fluid that help to cushion joints and lubricate bones, tendons and muscles. Elbow bursitis is often caused by injury, prolonged pressure (such as leaning on the tip of the elbow for long periods) or repetitive movement. It can also be caused by an infection or medical condition such as arthritis or gout. Treatment depends on the cause of your bursitis, although rest, ice, and pain medication can help.
- Trapped nerves. Pinched nerves in or near the elbow can cause pain, numbness, tingling, and weakness of the arm, wrist, or hand. Cubital tunnel syndrome affects the ulnar nerve at the elbow. Nerves may become compressed as the result of repetitive stress. In most cases, nonsurgical treatments can relieve symptoms. This includes bracing, rest, and pain relief. In some cases, your doctor may recommend surgery.
Colorado Center of Orthopaedic Excellence
Elbow injuries can range in complexity. Your treatment options will depend on the type of injury you have sustained. We use the most innovative and minimally invasive treatments available today, including joint injections, cryotherapy, anti-inflammatory medications, and rehabilitation.
If you are suffering with elbow pain, the orthopedic professionals at the Colorado Center of Orthopaedic Excellence can offer you the help you need. Call us at (719) 623-1050 today or request an appointment now.