Why Does My Elbow Hurt?

Article featured on WebMD

Your elbow lets you throw, lift, swing, and hug, for starters. You can do all this because it’s not a simple joint. And that means there are a lot of ways things can go wrong. Your elbow’s a joint formed where three bones come together — your upper arm bone, called the humerus, and the ulna and the radius, the two bones that make up your forearm.Each bone has cartilage on the end, which helps them slide against each other and absorb shocks. They’re lashed into place with tough tissues called ligaments. And your tendons connect your bones to muscles to allow you to move your arm in different ways.If anything happens to any of these parts, not to mention the nerves and blood vessels around them, it can cause you pain.Here are some of the different ways your elbow can hurt:

One-time Injuries

Some injuries, hopefully, are one-off events, like when you fall or get hit hard while playing a sport.

  • Dislocated elbow. When one of the bones that forms the elbow gets knocked out of place, you have a dislocated elbow. One of the more common causes is when you put your hand out to catch yourself during a fall. It can also happen to toddlers when you swing them by their forearms — that’s called nursemaid’s elbow. If you think you or your child has a dislocated elbow, call your doctor right away.
  • Fractured elbow: If one of your arm bones breaks at the elbow, you have a fracture. Usually, this happens with a sudden blow, as you might get in a contact sport or a car accident. And don’t be fooled if you can still move your elbow afterward. If you’re in pain and it doesn’t look right, it could be broken. You’ll need medical attention.
  • Strains and sprains: File these under, “Oof, I think I pushed it a little too far.” When muscles get stretched or torn, it’s called a strain. When it’s ligaments, it’s a sprain.
You can get a strain when you put too much pressure on your elbow muscles, like when you lift heavy objects or overdo it with sports.Elbow sprains are common in athletes who throw, use racquets, or play contact sports.Both are treated with rest, ice and — once the pain is gone — stretching and strength exercises.

Wear-and-Tear Injuries

Other injuries occur over time, as you repeat certain actions and put wear and tear on your elbow. You can injure yourself playing sports or in any number of work settings, from a factory to an office.

  • Bursitis: Often caused by repeating the same motion over and over, you can also get bursitis from an accident or infection. Bursa are small sacs with fluid in them. You have them in your joints to help cushion your bones, tendons, and muscles. They also help skin slide over bone. But they can get swollen and cause you pain. Often, bursitis is simply treated with pain medicine and starts to get better within a few weeks.
  • Tennis elbow and golfer’s elbow: These are both types of tendinopathy or tendinosis, which means you have damage in the tendons around your elbow from overuse. Despite the names, the injuries aren’t limited to golfers or tennis players. You’re just more likely to get them based on the arm motions used in those sports. The main difference between the two is that tennis elbow affects the outside of your elbow, while golfer’s elbow affects the inside.
  • Trapped nerves: You might be familiar with carpal tunnel syndrome, where a nerve that passes through your wrist gets squeezed and causes some wrist and arm issues. You can have similar problems in your elbow.
  • If you have radial tunnel syndrome, you have a similar issue with the radial nerve as it passes through the radial tunnel near the outside of your elbow. You may have burning or numbness on your outside forearm and elbow.
  • Stress fractures: With a stress fracture, you have a small crack in one of your arm bones, usually from overuse. They’re more common in the lower legs and feet, but athletes who throw a lot, such as baseball pitchers, can get them in the elbow, too. The pain is usually worse when throwing.

Diseases

Several diseases can also cause elbow pain, though it’s usually not the main symptom.

  • Arthritis: Many types of arthritis can affect your elbow, but the main ones are rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis.
    • Rheumatoid arthritis is the most common type of arthritis in the elbow. When you have it, your immune system attacks your body’s healthy tissue and causes swelling in your joints. You get osteoarthritis when your elbow cartilage breaks down over time, which means the bones rub together and cause pain and stiffness.
  • Osteochondritis dissecans: Children and teenagers mostly get this condition, where a piece of bone near the elbow dies. The bone piece and some cartilage then break off, which causes pain during physical activity. It’s more common in the knees, but can happen in the elbow, as well.
  • Gout: This is actually a type of arthritis. Uric acid, normally a waste product to be sent out of your body, builds up as crystals in your tissues. If the buildup happens in your elbow, it can be very painful.
  • Lupus: This is another illness where your immune system attacks healthy parts of your body, including your joints and organs. It more commonly affects your hands and feet, but it can cause problems in your elbow.
  • Lyme disease: Carried by ticks, Lyme disease can cause serious problems if not treated early. You may have issues with your nervous system and pain in your joints, like your elbow.

When to Call Your Doctor

If you think you’ve fractured or dislocated your elbow — it hurts and doesn’t look right — go to the emergency room.

Call your doctor if you have:

  • Elbow pain that doesn’t go away with rest and ice, or pain that doesn’t go away even when you’re not using your arm
  • Intense pain, swelling, and bruising around your elbow
  • Pain, swelling, or redness that gets worse, especially if you have a fever, too
  • Problems using your elbow, such as difficulty bending your arm

The Orthopedic & Sports Medicine Center of Oregon is an award-winning, board-certified orthopedic group located in downtown Portland Oregon. We utilize both surgical and nonsurgical means to treat musculoskeletal trauma, spine diseases, sports injuries, degenerative diseases, infections, tumors and congenital disorders.

Our mission is to return our patients back to pain-free mobility and full strength as quickly and painlessly as possible using both surgical and non-surgical orthopedic procedures.

Our expert physicians provide leading-edge, comprehensive care in the diagnosis and treatment of orthopedic conditions, including total joint replacement and sports medicine. We apply the latest state-of-the-art techniques in order to return our patients to their active lifestyle.

If you’re looking for compassionate, expert orthopedic surgeons in Portland Oregon, contact OSM today.

Phone:
503-224-8399

Address
1515 NW 18th Ave, 3rd Floor
Portland, OR 97209

Hours
Monday–Friday

What a Dislocated Elbow Means

Article featured on the Cleveland Clinic.

The elbow is composed of three bones. A dislocation happens when any of these bones become separated or knocked out of place. If you think you have dislocated your elbow, you should get immediate medical help.

What is a dislocated elbow?

A dislocated elbow occurs when any of the three bones in the elbow joint become separated or knocked out of their normal positions.

Dislocation can be very painful, causing the elbow to become unstable and sometimes unable to move. Dislocation damages the ligaments of the elbow and can also damage the surrounding muscles, nerves and tendons (tissues that connect the bones at a joint).

You should seek immediate medical treatment if you think you have an elbow dislocation. Treatment reduces the risk of irreversible damage.

How common is a dislocated elbow?

The incidence of the injury has been estimated at 2.9 events per 100,000 people over the age of 16. In children, dislocations can happen when someone yanks on the child’s arm.

SYMPTOMS AND CAUSES

What causes a dislocated elbow?

There can be various causes of a dislocated elbow.

  • Most elbow dislocations occur when people try to stop a fall with their outstretched hand.
  • Car accidents can cause dislocated elbows when people reach out to brace themselves against impact.
  • Sports injuries can cause dislocations.
  • Overuse can also be a cause.
  • In some cases, a joint disorder such as Ehlers-Danlos syndrome causes dislocations. Ehlers-Danlos makes joints unusually loose and flexible.

What are the signs and symptoms of a dislocated elbow?

A dislocated elbow can be partial or complete. A complete elbow dislocation involves a total separation and is called a luxation. When the elbow joint is partially dislocated, it is called a subluxation.

Doctors also classify elbow dislocations according to the extent of the damage and where it occurs. The 3 types include:

  • Simple: No major injury to the bone
  • Complex: Severe injuries to the bone and ligament
  • Severe: Damage to the nerves and blood vessels around the elbow

The signs and symptoms of a dislocated elbow vary depending on the severity of the injury and the bones involved. They include:

  • Bruising
  • Deformed-looking arm (bone looks out of place)
  • Weakness in the joint
  • Loss of ability to move the elbow
  • Pain
  • Swelling

DIAGNOSIS AND TESTS

How is dislocated elbow diagnosed?

A doctor diagnoses a dislocated elbow by looking at the arm and moving the joint.

In many cases, doctors use an imaging test called an X-ray to see if the bone is injured. Occasionally, doctors use tests called MRI or CT scans to look for damage to the surrounding muscles and tendons.

MANAGEMENT AND TREATMENT

How is a dislocated elbow condition managed or treated?

Some dislocated elbows return to their usual position on their own. More severe cases need a doctor to return the bones to their proper position.

Treatment for a dislocated elbow varies according to the severity of the injury. Steps you can take to reduce pain while you wait to see a doctor include:

  • Rest
  • Apply ice
  • Keep the elbow elevated

Treatments for an elbow dislocation include:

  • Manipulation: A doctor returns the bones to their normal positions, called a joint reduction.
  • Medication: Your doctor may recommend over-the-counter medicine to reduce pain.
  • Rest: Once the joint is back in place, you may need to keep it immobile and protect it. Using a sling can help the elbow joint heal.
  • Physical therapy: You may need to do exercises to strengthen the muscles and tendons in the elbow to help support it after it heals.
  • Surgery: You may need surgery if:
    • Your doctor is unable to return the bones to their proper positions through manipulation.
    • Dislocation damaged nerves or blood vessels in the elbow.
    • Torn tendons or muscles need repair.

PREVENTION

Can dislocated elbow be prevented?

Caution can help reduce your risk of a dislocated elbow. Be careful on slippery surfaces and stairs to avoid falls. Avoid overtraining in sports to avoid overuse injuries.

What are the risk factors for dislocated elbow?

People at higher risk for a dislocated elbow include those who:

  • Are over age 65 (because they are more prone to falls)
  • Overtrain in sports, especially activities involving throwing
  • Have inherited joint disorders such as Ehlers-Danlos syndrome

OUTLOOK/PROGNOSIS

What is the prognosis (outlook) for people with dislocated elbow?

Recovery times vary according to the severity of the elbow dislocation. Many dislocated elbows do not cause any further problems once they heal. They usually feel better as soon as a doctor puts the joint back in place.

LIVING WITH

When should I call the doctor?

Contact your doctor if you have the symptoms of a dislocated elbow. Do not try to push a dislocated elbow back into place yourself. This effort could damage the surrounding tissue and tendons and lead to complications. If you have a dislocated elbow, let your doctor know if you think you are not healing correctly or continue to have problems.

What questions should I ask my doctor?

If you have a dislocated elbow, you may want to ask your doctor:

  • How serious is the dislocation?
  • Will I need surgery or other treatment?
  • What signs of complications should I look out for?
  • Do I need a follow-up visit, and if so, when?

When can I go back to my regular activities?

Healing time for a dislocated elbow varies depending on the severity of the injury. Most people with a dislocated elbow can return to their usual activities once a doctor has returned the joint to its normal position.

A sling can help protect the elbow joint so you can return to your usual activities while the joint heals. Your doctor will let you know when you can resume more physical activities such as sports or lifting heavy objects.


The Orthopedic & Sports Medicine Center of Oregon is an award-winning, board-certified orthopedic group located in downtown Portland Oregon. We utilize both surgical and nonsurgical means to treat musculoskeletal trauma, spine diseases, sports injuries, degenerative diseases, infections, tumors and congenital disorders.

Our mission is to return our patients back to pain-free mobility and full strength as quickly and painlessly as possible using both surgical and non-surgical orthopedic procedures.

Our expert physicians provide leading-edge, comprehensive care in the diagnosis and treatment of orthopedic conditions, including total joint replacement and sports medicine. We apply the latest state-of-the-art techniques in order to return our patients to their active lifestyle.

If you’re looking for compassionate, expert orthopedic surgeons in Portland Oregon, contact OSM today.

Phone:
503-224-8399

Address
1515 NW 18th Ave, 3rd Floor
Portland, OR 97209

Hours
Monday–Friday
8:00am – 4:30pm

Elbow Fractures in Children

Article Featured on AAOS

Elbow fractures are common childhood injuries, accounting for about 10% of all childhood fractures. In many cases, a simple fracture will heal well with conservative cast treatment. Some types of elbow fractures, however, including those in which the pieces of bone are significantly out of place, may require surgery. Other structures in the elbow—such as nerves, blood vessels, and ligaments—may also be injured when a fracture occurs and may require treatment, as well.

Read more

What Is Olecranon Bursitis

Description

The olecranon (oh-LEH-cruh-nahn) is the pointy bone at the tip of the elbow.  The bursa is the thin sac of fluid that lies between this boney tip and the skin.  It helps the skin slide over the bone smoothly.  Normally, this sac has only a tiny bit of fluid inside of it and lays flat.  However, the bursa can become irritated or inflamed and fill with extra fluid (see Figure 1).  When this happens, a painful swelling develops at the back of the elbow.  This swelling is olecranon bursitis.

Read more