You don’t have to play tennis to suffer from an elbow injury. Pain in the elbow can be caused by underlying issues, an injury or repetitive motions that have led to a strain.
Find out more about elbow injuries below, along with common treatments, to help decide if you might benefit from sports medicine and other therapies offered at Northeast Spine and Sports Medicine offices.
Biceps tendinitis occurs when the tendon attaching the top of the bicep to the shoulder blade and shoulder socket becomes inflamed. Over time, the condition can progress from redness and swelling of the tendon to abnormal thickening.
Biceps tendinitis is usually caused by gradual wear and tear caused by regular activities. However, placing excessive strain on the shoulder with repeated overhead movements can make developing the condition more likely. It usually occurs alongside another condition affecting the shoulder, such as osteoarthritis or a rotator cuff tear.
One of the most common symptoms of biceps tendinitis is pain that begins in the shoulder and may radiate down the arm. This pain often gets worse when the affected person raises their arms overhead. Some people also report a popping noise or feeling when they move the joint.
Exactly how many people develop biceps tendinitis each year is unknown, but it’s more common in people who participate in overhead sports such as tennis and weightlifting. The risk of developing biceps tendinitis due to everyday wear and tear increases with age. It’s relatively unusual for biceps tendinitis to develop without a coexisting shoulder condition.
Biceps tendinitis is usually successfully treated non-surgically by applying ice packs to the affected shoulder and avoiding painful movements. Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen can help reduce the pain during recovery. Affected individuals typically benefit from physical therapy to strengthen and stabilize the shoulder, and it may be necessary to treat any coexisting shoulder issues at the same time.
Doctors sometimes recommend injecting steroids into the tendon to reduce inflammation. Occasionally, a surgical procedure called a biceps tenodesis is required, where the damaged area is cut away and the tendon is reattached to the bone. In severe cases, surgeons may suggest removing the tendon altogether.
Ulnar nerve entrapment occurs when the ulnar nerve connecting the neck to the hand becomes constricted. Ulnar nerve entrapment in the elbow is known as cubital tunnel syndrome.
The ulnar nerve is particularly vulnerable to compression in this area because it has to travel through a narrow space. Prolonged bending of the elbow or sleeping on it while bent can compress the nerve and cause cubital tunnel syndrome. Other causes include cysts, arthritis or bone spurs around the elbow joint.
Most individuals with cubital tunnel syndrome experience symptoms primarily in their hands, especially in the ring and little finger. The condition can cause changes in sensation in the fingers, such as pain, numbness and tingling, and this often gets worse when the elbow is bent. Some people also experience problems with grip strength and hand coordination. Affected individuals may also have aching inside the elbow joint.
Occasionally, severe cubital tunnel syndrome can cause muscle wasting in the hands. This is irreversible, so it’s important to seek prompt medical attention.
Cubital tunnel syndrome is relatively uncommon, occurring in fewer than 25 out of every 100,000 people per year. Men are slightly more likely to develop cubital tunnel syndrome than women, and the risk increases with age.
Some cubital tunnel syndrome cases can be treated conservatively by avoiding bending the elbow until the problem resolves and taking anti-inflammatory medication to reduce pain. Doctors sometimes recommend splinting the elbow to keep it straight or wearing an elbow pad to cushion it.
When non-invasive treatment is unsuccessful, steroid injections can help reduce inflammation. Sometimes, surgery is necessary to reduce pressure on the ulnar nerve or relocate it to a less compressed position.
Also known as medial epicondylitis, golfer’s elbow refers to pain on the inside of the elbow that arises from damage to the tendons that bend the wrist forward. A person with golfer’s elbow may also find it painful to shake hands or flex the wrist with the palm down. They may have a weak grasp, and they may experience numbness and tingling from the elbow to the pinky and ring fingers.
Golfer’s elbow can develop from repeatedly twisting the wrist during work or sports, so it’s a common complaint of those involved in jobs that require these repetitive motions, such as painters, plumbers, cooks and computer users. Using poor form while playing sports or overdoing certain activities can lead to golfer’s elbow, with golf, baseball, weight training and racquet sports being common culprits.
Avoiding the activity that led to golfer’s elbow is the first step in treatment. Icing the sore area, taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications or receiving corticosteroid injections may help alleviate the pain. A physical therapist can suggest stretching and strengthening exercises to speed recovery and help prevent future injury. If conservative measures fail to provide desired results within six to 12 months, surgery may be suggested.
To prevent recurrence of golfer’s elbow, it may be necessary to cut back on the activity that led to the problem and use a brace on the arm to help reduce strain on the muscles and tendons. When sporting activities are responsible for golfer’s elbow, making changes to form, technique and equipment may prevent future injury. Computer users may be able to make changes to their workstations to create more ergonomic work conditions.
Tennis elbow isn’t restricted to sports enthusiasts. The condition can affect anyone who performs repetitive arm and wrist movements, including gardeners, painters, musicians and typists. The medical term for tennis elbow is lateral epicondylitis. The lateral epicondyle is located on the humerus, the upper arm bone, at the outside edge of the elbow region. The extensor tendon connects your forearm muscles to the lateral epicondyle.
With overuse or misuse, the area surrounding the tendon can become inflamed. Typical tennis elbow symptoms include pain near the lateral epicondyle, along the forearm and into the wrist. It can become difficult to pick up a milk jug or even a coffee cup if the condition is severe. Your doctor may be able to diagnose tennis elbow based on a physical examination, symptoms and daily activities. But tests are available to help confirm the diagnosis if necessary, including an X-ray, ultrasound, MRI or electromyography.
Tennis elbow is very common, occurring most frequently in adults aged 30 to 50, although it can affect people younger and older. With treatment and proper management, the condition often goes away after several months. However, individuals who continue to participate in the same repetitive activities may experience recurrence and sometimes chronic tennis elbow.
Treatment for tennis elbow is usually non-invasive and begins with limiting activities. Along with rest, the following remedies have been used with success for tennis elbow:
Your doctor may also recommend a steroid injection, ensuring the maximum amount of medication reaches the affected area. Surgery is typically a last resort for severe cases.
Complete our convenient online contact form or call a Northeast Spine and Sports Medicine office to make an appointment for your elbow pain today. You don’t have to live in pain, and home remedies may only do so much for your condition.