Elbow Conditions & Treatments
Our elbows are interesting joints. We can bend, straighten and twist them in all sorts of directions. Therefore, the elbow joint is not very stable. And it can be prone to injury or damage, causing elbow pain.
Elbow pain is often caused by overuse. It can affect people of all ages and lifestyles. Occasionally elbow pain can be due to arthritis. Although, this is not always the case. More often than any, elbow pain comes from overuse injuries.
The elbow allows us to do many things, such as swing, lift, and throw to name a few. The reason the elbow can move in this motion is that it is a complex joint. However, due to this, there are a lot of ways things can go wrong.
The elbow is a joint formed of three bones. They come together to allow for motions such as swinging. These three bones are the humerus, the ulna, and the radius. In which, the two bones which make up the forearm are the humerus and the ulna.
On the end of ulna, humerus and radius bone is cartilage. This cartridge allows them to slide against each other and absorb shocks. They’re fastened into place with tough tissues called ligaments. The tendons connect your bones to the muscles for arm movement.
Elbow Pain Causes
There are many causes that can be the culprit for elbow pain.
Most Common Conditions Include:
- Arthritis: Several types of arthritis can affect your elbow. But the main ones are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Osteoarthritis occurs when your elbow cartilage breaks down over time. This causes the bones to rub together and can lead to elbow pain. Rheumatoid arthritis occurs when your immune system attacks your body healthy tissue and causes swelling in your joints.
- Bursitis: Bursitis is caused by repeating the same motion over and over again. Although, it is possible to get bursitis from an infection of the bursa sac or an accident. Bursa is sacs of fluid in your joints. They help cushion your tendons, bones, and muscles.
- Gout: This disease occurs when uric acid builds up as crystals in your tissues. If the buildup happens in your elbow, it can be extremely painful.
- Trapped Nerves: Just as carpal tunnel syndrome, you can have similar nerve issues with your elbow. Cubital tunnel syndrome happens when one of the main nerves in your arm gets squeezed. This occurs as it goes through the inside of your elbow and passes through a tissue called the cubital tunnel. Additionally, another nerve condition is called radial tunnel syndrome. It is described as a similar issue as cubital tunnel syndrome. However, just passing through the radial tunnel near your elbow instead of the cubital.
Injuries are often the cause of elbow pain.
Most Common Injuries include:
- Dislocated Elbow: When one of the bones which form the elbow gets knocked out of place that is a dislocation.
- UCL Injury: A torn UCL is no fun. It can result in excruciating elbow pain. Pitchers, golfers, tennis players, quarterbacks, and any sports which involve overhead motions are susceptible. This injury usually requires reconstructive surgery. Sadly, the surgery is followed by a very long recovery period of 12-18 months.
- Tendon Rupture: A tendon rupture at the elbow is uncommon, although possible. It can be a very serious issue if left untreated. Typically ruptures are caused by a sudden injury and are often the cause for arm weakness.
- Tennis Elbow and Golfers Elbow: Both tennis and golfer’s elbows are types of tendinitis, which is swelling from overuse. Sometimes difficult to tell apart. Just remember, tennis elbow affects the outer part of your elbow. While golfers elbow affects the inner.
- Elbow Strains & Sprains: When a muscle gets stretched too far, this is called a strain. When it’s ligaments get stretched too far, it’s a sprain. Either one can cause elbow pain. These are very common in athletes who throw, use rackets or play contact sports.
- Fractured Elbow: An elbow fracture occurs when one of your arm bones breaks at the elbow. A fracture involves severe pain. Typically it happens suddenly and is common in sports contact or a car accident.
Common Elbow Pain Treatments
Depending on the level of pain will often result in the recommended treatment. Always ice your elbow after an injury. Your doctor will recommend additional treatments, such as:
Non-operative Shoulder Treatments
- Corticosteroid Injection: A cortisone injection helps to relieve pain and inflammation. Typically including corticosteroid medication and a local anesthetic.
- Trigger Point Injection: The trigger point injection is also known as TPI. It is used to treat pain in certain areas of the body. These areas contain knots of muscle that form when muscles don’t relax. Therefore, this injection can help relax the muscles.
- Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP): Platelet Rich Plasma injections may help damaged tissue when plasma is injected. This stimulates your body to grow new healthy cells and promote healing.
Surgical Elbow Procedures
- Bursitis Surgical Procedure: Bursitis can usually be healed with conservative treatments, such as draining the bursa. Although, sometimes it is necessary to remove the sac entirely. This is performed through an incision directly over the back of the elbow.
- UCL Reconstruction (AKA Tommy John Surgery): This procedure repairs a torn ligament inside the elbow. Allowing it to restore stability and range of motion. This involves harvesting a tendon from your body (or a donor.) Then, attach it as a new UCL.
- Ulnar Nerve Decompression: This is the most common surgical procedure for cubital tunnel syndrome. The procedure involves relieving pressure on the ulnar nerve. Ulnar nerve decompression surgery is done by cutting a band of tissue. Next, moving the nerve or portion of the bone. This allows for creation of new space.
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