Treating Pain in the Elbows: Common Causes and Treatments

One of the most common conditions that physical therapists and other medical professionals treat is elbow pain. Fortunately, this problem can usually be effectively treated. If you suffer from this condition, here are some of the causes and common methods for treating pain in the elbows.




Causes of Elbow Pain

Arthritis—Both osteoarthritis (OA) and rheumatoid arthritis (RA) can cause elbow pain. Although OA can affect elbows, it occurs more in the hip and knees, which are weight-bearing joints. In most cases, OA is due to injuries or overuse.


Elbow injuries and fractures—Tennis elbow, known medically as lateral epicondylitis, occurs when the tendons connecting the elbow to the forearms become swollen and painful because of overuse. When the elbow bones fracture or break, it can cause a sharp pain in either the elbow joint or the joint that’s next to this joint.


Sprains and strains—Sprain, which are ligament injuries due to tears or stretches, can easily occur when an elbow is jammed, stiff or overextended. Strains are the result of excess force on a muscle and generally happen when muscles are stretched during weight-bearing movements or from overusing a muscle.


Elbow dislocations—An elbow dislocation occurs when the joint surfaces become separated from where they normally meet. An elbow can become dislocated as a result of falling on top of a hand that’s extended or outstretched. A complete elbow dislocation involves joint surfaces that are completely separated, while a partial dislocation, known as a subluxation, is when they’re partially dislocated.


Home Treatments

Treating pain in the elbows usually begins at home. For example:


• Using cold packs or ice may relieve pain. Do this several times, daily, for 10 to 15 minute intervals. Be sure you place a thin cloth between your skin and the ice.
• Applying heat—Taking hot baths, or using moist, warm cloths, can help.
• Taking NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications) can be effective.
Topical creams rubbed over the affected area are also used to reduce inflammation and pain.


Physiotherapy Treatments

Physiotherapy therapies are designed to build up elbow strength so that the problem doesn’t return.
• They entail exercises to make you regain its flexibility. There are elbow stretches, besides exercises for strengthening the biceps and triceps, using resistance bands or light weights.
Clasps can be effective, especially for golfer’s and tennis elbow.
Tapes or straps can be used for joining soft tissue, so there’s less strain.





Steroid shots—If you haven’t found relief after a few weeks of treatments, steroid shots may be recommended.
Platelet-rich plasma injections or PRP, which is a popular way to treat tennis elbow, entails taking a blood sample from a patient. After treating the blood sample, it’s re-injected into the patient’s painful area to promote healing in adjacent tissues.





Although most people don’t need surgery, some patients do. Most procedures are done on an out-patient basis, meaning you can go home the same day as your surgery. Following surgery, you’ll need to have physiotherapy, besides do stretching exercises at home.


Considerations and Warnings

Improperly sitting at a computer for a long time can cause elbow pain.
Gripping a steering wheel for hours can result in elbow pain. Therefore, it’s critical to make modifications in how you use your arms throughout your day to prevent elbow pain.
• A dislocation is a medical emergency that requires immediate professional care. Failing to treat a dislocation can damage the ligaments, as well as the nerves or blood vessels.
• Never give aspirin to someone who’s younger than age 20 as this can cause Reye’s syndrome, which is a severe illness.

If you’re unsure of the cause of your elbow pain, or your home treatments fail to work, don’t hesitate to see a doctor. Often, people cause further damage by failing to be professionally diagnosed and receive the right medical treatment.