Elbow Pain – Check Types of Elbow Disorders and their Respective Treatments
At one point of life, everyone has had gone through an elbow pain, which is an extremely common condition. Elbow pain occurs due to sports injuries or overuse, causing several different elbow disorders. Cricketers, golfers, tennis players, boxers, etc. all often experience elbow pain.
What causes elbow pain?
There is not a single reason for elbow pain. In fact, elbow covers your arm muscles, tendons, elbow ligaments, bones in the arms and bursae (small fluid-filled sac located at joints). The symptoms and treatment of elbow pain depend on the type and underlying cause.
Types of elbow disorders and their symptoms
Elbow disorders can be minor or severe and might include pain, numbness, tingling, swelling, and weakness. To get a better grip on the topic, you need to understand various types of elbow pain below along with symptoms.
Lateral epicondylitis – Tennis elbow
If you think that only those people who play tennis would suffer from tennis elbow, then you need to give it a second thought. The fact is, only 5 percent tennis players suffer tennis elbow or lateral epicondylitis. The condition affects the tendons located on the outside of the elbow.
Tennis elbow can occur in players of racquet sports or in professions involving the same sort of motions. They can be cooks, carpenters, autoworkers, painters, and plumbers. Symptoms include pain or burning outside of the elbow. Some people may experience difficulty with gripping.
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Medial epicondylitis - Golfer’s elbow
Similar to the tennis elbow, the golfer elbow causes pain around the joints. Even you have never played golf in your life, the golfer’s elbow or medial epicondylitis can affect you. The condition occurs due to repetitive throwing movements used during sports such as golf, baseball or fielding in cricket. It can also occur as a result of repetitive hand motion such as in profession involving swinging of hammer every day.
People suffering from golfer’s elbow complain of pain along the inside of the elbow. In some other, wrist movement can trigger pain.
The condition typically affects the cartilage, which is a type of connective tissue in the joints. In osteoarthritis, the cartilage wears down or become damaged. Elbow osteoarthritis may occur due to injury or wear and tear of the joints.
Symptoms of elbow osteoarthritis besides pain include:
- Difficulty moving the joints or bending the elbow
- Grating or scraping sound during movement
- Swelling of joints
Olecranon bursitis - Student’s elbow
Olecranon bursitis refers to a condition characterized by swelling and inflammation on the pointy bottom or back of the elbow. The condition is also known with other names like student’s elbow, draftsman’s elbow, and miner’s elbow. Bursitis typically affects the bursae, which protects the joints of the elbow.
The condition occurs due to blow or injury to the elbow, infection or leaning on the elbow for a long period of time. It can also be caused due to some underlying medical condition such as arthritis. Common symptoms include swelling, pain, tenderness, and difficulty moving elbow. Redness or warmth can occur due to infection.
Fracture or dislocation of the elbow
Broken bones can occur due to falls, sports injuries or car accidents. The elbow fracture or dislocation typically occurs when a person falls on its outstretched arm or elbow. In these situations, the bone moves away from its actual position while fracture occurs when the elbow bone breaks or cracks.
Symptoms of elbow dislocation or fracture:
- Inability to bend or move the arm
- In some cases, lack of feeling in the hand
Ligament strains and sprains
Problems in the ligament can occur anywhere in the elbow joint. Strain or sprain can happen due to repeated stress or injury. Some people may hear a bursting noise upon injury, some other may feel their elbow stretched, partially or completely torn.
Typical symptoms of ligament strains and sprain depend on the severity of the injury.
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Diagnosis of elbow disorders - When to see the doctor?
You should seek medical help if you are not sure about your condition. The doctor will conduct a physical examination followed by X-ray, MRI, or CT scan. Depending on your case, the doctor may also conduct a biopsy of bursae fluid to determine other causes of pain and inflammation such as osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and joint infection.
Your doctor should be looking for following signs on the first appointment:
- Ability to lift or carry objects or use the arm properly
- Elbow pain that is occurring at night or while resting
- Inability to straighten or bend the arm
- Bruising or swelling around the elbow
- Persisting pain that shows no improvement
Treatments of elbow disorders
The treatment will depend on the specific condition. Hence, it is vital to understand the cause of the condition before starting any treatment.
- Golfer’s elbow – The condition typically improves itself with rest and traditional treatment methods like taking over the counter painkillers such as ibuprofen or icing the affected area.
- Tennis elbow – Symptoms of tennis elbow improves with rest. One can also use brace or strap for pain relief. In some other cases, steroid injections are used.
- Elbow osteoarthritis – Typically, medication and physical therapy are used. In more severe cases, joint replacement surgery is done.
- Student’s elbow - Olecranon bursitis is usually treated with medication and elbow pads. Surgery might be an option in serious cases.
- Fracture or dislocation – The dislocated or fractured elbow can be placed back by putting the affected area in a splint or cast followed by medication for pain. After removing splint or cast, physical therapy or exercise will help restore movement.
- Ligament strains and sprains – Resting is the very first method to improve symptoms. Other treatment includes icing the area, physical therapy and bracing the elbow.
Most of the elbow disorders can be treated with first aid measures. However, it is better to adopt proper sports techniques and warming up or stretching before the competition in order to prevent injuries. In case you are not sure of your injury, don’t forget to seek advice of your orthopedist.