Common Reasons for Elbow Pain and Treatments

Common Reasons for Elbow Pain and Treatments

My name is Jennie McCarthy, I’m a physician assistant with CHI Health Orthopedics, specializing in shoulder and elbow surgery.

I’m going to talk a little bit about the four most common elbow conditions that we see in our clinic. Those would include tennis elbow, or lateral epicondylitis, olecranon bursitis, elbow arthritis and cubital tunnel syndrome.

Tennis Elbow
Tennis elbow is a condition affecting the outside of the elbow where the tendons that help control the wrist get inflamed and irritated. It can be caused by activities such as tennis or other racquetball type sports, but also is commonly caused from overuse.

Treatment options for tennis elbow are usually conservative. We start by using anti-inflammatories, rest, ice, modifying our activities, and usually physical therapy. If the conservative treatments do not help, then commonly the next step is an ultrasound-guided injection right around the tendons that are inflamed and irritated, and sometimes, in rare cases, we actually do surgery to clean out the inflamed tendons.

Olecranon Bursitis
Olecranon bursitis is where the bursa on the posterior or back of the elbow gets inflamed and sometimes can be infected. It will be red swollen warm and pretty painful.

Bursitis of the elbow is usually treated with conservative measures such as rest, ice, compression and modifying your activities but occasionally we have to put a needle in there to drain the fluid out. In some cases, where there would be infection in the bursa, we actually have to take you to surgery to wash out all of the infection.

Elbow Arthritis
Elbow arthritis is wear and tear of the elbow joint where the cartilage starts to wear away and then your bones can rub together.

Treatment options for elbow arthritis usually include conservative measures such as NSAIDs or anti-inflammatories, and steroid injections into the elbow joint. Sometimes, if your arthritis is bad enough, we do surgery to clean out any loose bodies, or sometimes even elbow replacement.

Cubital Tunnel Syndrome
Cubital tunnel syndrome is a disorder of the elbow that actually does not cause pain of the elbow but it’s where your ulnar nerve, which is a big nerve (one of the three biggest nerves in your arm) gets trapped or compressed at the elbow and causes numbness and tingling in your hand. It usually causes numbness in the small finger and half of the ring finger.

Treatment options for cubital tunnel are usually physical therapy to help desensitize or stretch out that nerve, and if that does not work, we usually talk about surgery to actually surgically decompress the nerve at the elbow that your symptoms go away.

If you have any symptoms of your elbow that are not going away with conservative measures at home then it’s usually a great time to come see an orthopedic specialist.

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