Elbow Pain and Problems

Tennis Elbow

Tennis elbow is a painful overuse injury that happens when the tendons in your elbow are overworked by repetitive contraction motions of the forearm muscles used in straightening and raising your hand and wrist. This can result in tiny tears in the tendons attaching the forearm muscles to the bony bump outside of your elbow. The pain is not limited to the elbow, and can spread to your forearm and wrist. Most cases of this actually occur in people who don’t play tennis, but still have jobs or play in sports that feature the types of motions that lead to tennis elbow. This can include painters, carpenters, plumbers, and butchers.

Typical Treatment

Usually, rest, ice, and over-the-counter pain relievers are very helpful in relieving pain caused by tennis elbow. You may also be prescribed physical therapy to help strengthen and heal the affected elbow. These physical therapy exercises will gradually stretch and strengthen the affected muscles. This may include learning proper form to prevent future cases of tennis elbow from happening. Experts may evaluate your tennis or sports technique, or the movements required for your job tasks in order to figure out what the best steps are to reduce stress on your tissue that has been injured. Another method used is wearing braces. You may wear a forearm strap or brace to help recide any stress placed on the injured tissue. If your symptoms have not improved after six to twelve months of non-surgical treatments, and your injury is simply more severe, your doctor may suggest surgery.

Surgery will be performed by removing damaged tissue. These can be performed by using a large incision, or through a number of small incisions. It is vital to your healing to follow the rehabilitation exercise regime after surgery to allow for maximum healing and ability to use your arm after.

How to Prevent it

Preventing tennis elbow from occurring includes stretching and strengthening your arm muscles through exercise so they are strong and flexible for the activities you participate in. Make sure to stay in good physical shape overall, concentrating on strengthening the muscles of your shoulder, arm, and upper back to aid in taking stress off your elbow. Make sure to always use correct movements and techniques during any activities you do, use appropriate equipment to suit your ability, strength, and body size. If you must perform repeated movements, try alternating your hands during the activity if at all possible.

Another thing that may be helpful is to wear a counter force brace during the activities requiring you to grasp something or twist your arm. The brace is worn around the forearm, directly below your elbow. It helps by distributing pressure from muscle use throughout the arm, which in turn helps ease pressure on the tendon. Generally, the brace is not used for prevention. However, it may largely help someone who is at a high risk for tennis elbow. Ask your doctor If it would be beneficial for your unique activity and pain to use a brace.

What are the consequences of not treating it?

Not treating tennis elbow can have some serious and painful consequences. If you do not properly rest your elbow after it has been hurt, you risk eventually losing the ability to move it, as well as prolonged pain. Make sure to speak with your doctor about the best course of action if you feel you have the symptoms of tennis elbow.

Cubital Tunnel Syndrome

man holding his elbow because of painfully elbow

What is it/what happens to cause this issue?

Cubital tunnel syndrome is caused by repetitive increased pressure on the ulnar nerve, which passes near the surface of the skin in the elbow commonly known as the funny bone. It is commonly caused from repeatedly leaning on your elbow on hard surfaces, or often bending your elbow for sustained periods, like talking on a cell phone or sleeping with your elbow bent with your hand under the pillow. Another way cubital tunnel syndrome occurs is from an abnormal bone growth in the elbow, or from intense physical activity that places too much pressure on the ulnar nerve. Baseball pitchers have an increased risk of cubital tunnel syndrome because the twisting motion required to throw can, over time, damage delicate ligaments. Early symptoms to look out for include:

  • -pain and numbness in elbow
  • -tingling, especially in the ring and little fingers
  • -weakness affecting the ring and little fingers
  • -diminishing ability to pinch the thumb and little finger
  • -diminishing overall hand grip ability
  • -muscle gradually wasting in the hand
  • -deformity of the hand resembling claw

What does a typical treatment look like?

It is important to see a doctor if you are experiencing painful symptoms, to avoid a worsening condition. Cubital tunnel syndrome recovery is possible without surgery, especially if electromyography reveals that there is minimal pressure affecting the ulnar nerve. Physical therapy treatments for mild cases include:

  • -avoiding needless pressure on the elbow during daily activities
  • -use of a protective elbow pad over the funny bone during most of daily activities
  • -use of a splint when sleeping to prevent over-bending of the elbow

Other treatments include medications such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs to decrease soft tissue swelling, corticosteroid injections that aid in relieving inflammation and pressure on the radial nerve, and finally wrist and/or elbow splints to decrease any irritation of the radial nerve.

In more serious cases where splinting doesn’t help the patient or nerve compression is more severe, around 85% of patients respond to the appropriate form of surgery to release pressure on the ulnar nerve. After surgery recovery may involve temporary restrictions on lifting and any elbow movement, as well rehabilitation therapy. Although the existing numbness and tingling may or may not immediately improve, the ultimate recovery of hand and wrist strength may take several months.

Is there a recovery time before it’s gone or does it have lingering effects?
If non-surgical methods fail to provide relief after three months, your doctor may consider surgery to reduce any existing pressure on the radial nerve. Surgery is often recommended in more severe cases, especially those in which the wrist feels weak or even droopy or it becomes too difficult to extend the fingers.

What are the consequences of not treating it?

It is important to treat any of these symptoms and after treatment allow the elbow to rest. Ignoring this could lead to irreversible damage in your elbow, and ultimately lead to a disability.

Golfers Elbow

golf ball on putting green going into hole

What is it/what happens to cause this issue?

Golfer’s elbow causes pain and inflammation in the tendons connecting the forearm to the elbow. The pain is centered on the bony bump on the inside of the elbow, and sometimes radiates into the forearm. It is generally caused by overusing the muscles in the forearm that allow you to turn your arm, grip, and flex your wrist. The action of repetitive flexing, gripping, or swinging can crate pulls or tiny tears in the tendons.
Golfer’s elbow is usually caused by overusing the muscles in the forearm that allow you to grip, rotate your arm, and flex your wrist. Any sort of repetitive gripping, flexing, or swinging can cause pulls or tiny tears in the tendons. Activities that may lead to this are not limited to golfing, and can include tennis, bowling, and baseball. People may also get it from using tools like hammers and screwdrivers, raking, or painting.

What does a typical treatment look like?
It is very important to get treatment for golfer’s elbow quickly in order to prevent more damage to the tendons. It is recommended to apply ice to your elbow for 15-20 minutes three to four times per day. Be sure to rest the injured elbow from activities that further aggravate it and and discuss getting a splint with your doctor to limit the stress that is placed on the injured tendons. You may be advised to take an oral nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (aspiring or ibuprofen) to help reduce pain and swelling. A topical medication may help as well. An injection of a corticosteroid or painkiller in the elbow to help relieve pain and swelling in the short term may also be recommended. However, these treatments do not have the long term benefits that physical therapy has.
Physical therapy can help in relieving pain and boost the recovery process. By using strategic pain relieving treatments, and specific prescribed exercises, stress to the elbow is reduced, recovery is faster, and the risk of recurrence is reduced.

Is there a recovery time before it’s gone or does it have lingering effects?
Conservative treatments generally work for golfer’s elbow. However, if you are still having pain after three to six months, surgery may be the next required step. These procedures can remove damaged parts of a tendon, promote faster healing, and ultimately reduce pain. Full recovery usually takes anywhere from three to six months depending on how severe the injury is, as well as other factors that include age, and level of activity.

What are the consequences of not treating it?

It is important to treat any of these symptoms and after treatment allow the elbow to rest. Ignoring this could lead to irreversible damage in your elbow, and ultimately lead to a disability.