Elbow pain is a fairly prevalent pain issue that is estimated to account for around 1-3% of all reported musculoskeletal issues. In general, any type of pain that is felt in and around the structures of the elbow joint is referred to as elbow pain. A variety of issues can emerge around the elbow that can cause pain. Most of these issues tend to be treatable with common painkiller medicines along with some basic onsite and online physical therapy for elbow pain. But some conditions can be debilitating and could be signs of more serious problems as well, which may need immediate observation by the physician.
Understanding The Elbow
The elbow is one of the biggest joints in the body. It plays a crucial role in tandem with the shoulder joint and the wrists to allow the arms to achieve versatile motions and maintain stability and durability.
It lies at the center of the arms, specifically between the end of the humerus and the top part of the ulna. Basically, the joint connects the humerus, ulna, and radius bones, to allow for up to 180 degrees of movement of the lower arms while pivoted against the end of the upper arms. The bones of the elbow joint are covered with cartilage that allows them to easily slide against one another and absorb shock.
The joint is held together by a network of ligaments, which are made of tough, flexible connective tissue. The ulnar collateral ligament, radial collateral ligament, and annular ligament are the three major ligaments that connect the bones of the elbow. There are also tendons in your elbow that attach muscle to bone, which include the biceps tendon and the triceps tendon.
The elbow also lies at the pathway of three major nerves that travel down the arm, which include the radial nerve, the ulnar nerve, and the median nerve. These nerves play a crucial role in signaling the muscles to work and also to also relay sensations including touch, pain, and temperature.
What Causes Elbow Pain?
As a complex joint housing several structures together and enabling dynamic movements of the arms, the joint is subject to some of the toughest forces within the body. However, despite the inherent complexity, the elbow is generally considered to be comparatively more rigid than the other joints.
Most issues in the elbow often arise from overuse and disorders, which can also disturb its normal functioning. However, a few pain issues in the elbow may also be caused by problems that originate outside the elbow. Any pain experienced around the elbow should be treated as a sign of a defect that needs to be addressed. For understanding the cause of the pain, it’s important to know the region, nature, and intensity of the pain. In some cases, the body may even react by changing the normal movement or functioning process to reduce the pain, which may cause further injury in the elbow and the arms.
Common Elbow Pain Issues
Some of the most common elbow pain issues referred to onsite and online physical therapy for elbow pain are explained below:
Tendinitis is inflammation or irritation of a tendon — the thick fibrous cords that attach muscle to bone. The condition causes pain and tenderness just outside a joint. Tendinitis is a condition caused by the inflammation or irritation of a tendon. The symptoms of the condition include pain and tenderness right outside the joint. There are basically two common tendinitis issues in the elbow that include
- Tennis elbow: which results in the outer part of the elbow becomes painful and tender; the pain may also extend into the back of the forearm and weaken the grip strength.
- Golfer’s elbow: which causes pain and inflammation in the tendons that connect the forearm to the elbow; the pain centers on the bony bump on the inside of your elbow and may radiate into the forearm.
Most cases of tendinitis tend to be successfully treated with a combination of rest, physical therapy, and medications to reduce pain. However, if the tendinitis is severe and leads to the rupture of a tendon, surgery may be required.
Elbow fractures may be caused by a fall, a direct impact on the elbow, or a twisting injury to the arm. The fracture can develop in any of the three bone tips in the elbow region. Depending upon the extent of the damage, it can be painful and accompanied by other damages from sprains, strains, or dislocations. Some fractures can be treated with non-invasive methods like immobilization and physical therapy. But some severe conditions may need surgery.
Elbow dislocations are reported as the second most common major joint dislocation issue behind shoulder dislocation. A dislocated elbow occurs when any of the three bones in the elbow joint are separated or knocked out of their normal positions. It can be very painful, causing the elbow to become unstable and immobile. Furthermore, it can also damage the surrounding tendons, muscles, and nerves.
Doctors mainly classify elbow dislocations according to the severity of the damage and the affected areas. They include:
- Simple: where there isn’t a major injury to the bone
- Complex: where there are severe injuries to the bone and ligament
- Severe: Damage to the nerves and blood vessels around the elbow
Sometimes dislocated elbows return to their usual position on their own, but in more severe cases surgery may be required to return the bones to their proper position. Onsite and online physical therapy for elbow pain is also recommended to patients for post-surgery pain reduction and faster recovery from an elbow dislocation.
Elbow arthritis is a painful condition usually seen in individuals with rheumatoid arthritis or after fractures that involve the joint itself. The condition causes damage to the joint’s tissues and makes it painful for people even while doing simple functions like bending the elbow or carrying a light bag. Rheumatoid arthritis and Osteoarthritis are among the most common cause of arthritis in the elbow joint. Trauma or injury to the elbow can also damage the cartilage of the joint, which can lead to the development of arthritis within the injured joint. While anti-inflammatory drugs and painkillers may be given to patients with less severe conditions, elbow replacement surgery may be considered for more severe cases.
Elbow bursitis is a condition that occurs in the olecranon bursa, which is a thin, fluid-filled sac located at the boney tip of the elbow (the olecranon). The bursa contains a limited amount of lubricating flue that enables the soft tissues to move freely over the underlying bones of the elbow. While the olecranon bursa is usually flat, irritation or inflammation in it can cause excessive fluid to accumulate at the bursa and subsequently cause bursitis.
Risk Factors for Elbow Pain
The following groups are considered to be at the highest risk of developing elbow pain:
- Athletes of specific sports (like tennis, golf, baseball, etc.)
- People involved in specific occupations (factory assembly line workers, delivery workers, window cleaners, etc.)
- Elder age groups
- People living a sedentary lifestyle
- People with specific disease conditions (like arthritis, gout, etc.)
- Special genetic and in-born conditions like hip instability
Physical Therapy for Elbow Pain
Physical therapy is a scientifically proven effective first-line treatment for dealing with elbow pain. A properly administered physical therapy regime can not only reduce elbow pain but even eliminate it altogether in many cases. It not only helps patients to reduce elbow pain to a more manageable level but also enables the body to gain more strength and avoid serious pain episodes in the future. Furthermore, it can also help in reducing excessive dependence on painkillers and other pain-relief medications.
A professional physical therapist sets an ideal treatment and exercise plan on the instructions of the physician based on the patient’s capacity. Initial rehabilitation procedures for elbow pain treatment may need you to be present in person. But further procedures can be done be home through exercises, or through an expert-supervised online physical therapy for elbow pain. Most patients can successfully overcome their back pain and return to normal life after a few weeks or months of treatment under the supervision of the physical therapist.