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What does elbow pain mean?

Elbow pain can arise at any time. Most often it occurs in people that frequently perform activities involving the wrist. Athletes in sports that require throwing or swinging motions like tennis, golf, volleyball and baseball — even chefs, contractors and those who spend most of the day typing are particularly vulnerable for experiencing elbow issues.

The most common conditions that cause elbow pain are a type of tendinitis (inflammation of tendons), while other causes include bursitis, arthritis, cubital tunnel syndrome and radial tunnel syndrome. If any of these conditions develop, you will likely experience pain and tenderness on the inside or outside of your elbow. Sometimes the pain may spread to the upper or lower arm — often worsening when you lift or grip objects, make a fist, open doors or raise your hand.

Here are several of the most common causes of elbow pain:

Lateral Epicondylitis, or “tennis elbow,” is the most common cause of elbow pain and refers to degeneration of the tendon that attaches the elbow bone to the forearm muscles used to extend the wrist and fingers. People who repetitively use their forearm muscles, such as tennis players, weightlifters, painters, and plumbers, are especially prone to developing lateral epicondylitis.Typically, the pain is a burning sensation that comes on gradually, and worsens with activities that involve the use of the forearm extensor muscles like turning a wrench, mixing dough when baking, or holding a tennis racquet. Difficulties gripping objects is another potential symptoms of lateral epicondylitis.

Medial Epicondylitis, or "golfer's elbow" causes discomfort around the joint with symptoms of located on the inner side of the elbow. Pain is due to degeneration of the tendon that connects the elbow bone to the forearm muscles used to flex the wrist and fingers. Repetitive, forceful gripping (for example, of a golf club, racquet, or heavy tool) is often what triggers medial epicondylitis. Forearm weakness may also occur.

Olecranon Bursitis is a fluid-filled sac located between the tip of the elbow bone and the skin. When a patient has olecranon bursitis, they usually have swelling and tenderness behind the joint over the bony prominence called the olecranon. If the swelling gets big enough, a person may not be able to fully move his or her elbow. Sudden symptoms of olecranon bursitis may be the result of gout, infection, or trauma to the elbow. With an infected bursa, redness and warmth develops over the tip of the elbow. Approximately half of people develop a fever.

Biceps Tendonitis is most commonly caused by repetitive biceps muscle activity (for example, lifting heavy boxes).The biceps tendon is a tough, fibrous tissue that connects the biceps muscle to the front of the elbow bone. Biceps tendonitis causes an aching pain in front of the elbow. If a biceps tendon ruptures, a sudden, severe pain, along with a snapping or popping sensation, may be felt. Swelling and bruising may also occur near the elbow and forearm, and a visible lump may form on the upper arm.

Triceps Tendonitis is a less common condition that causes an aching pain at the back of the elbow and is most commonly affects people who repetitively extend their elbow against resistance (for example, weightlifters). Triceps tendon connects the triceps muscle to the back of the elbow bone. Triceps tendon ruptures will cause the same symptoms as the biceps injury.

Cubital Tunnel Syndrome affects the ulnar nerve that travels from your neck to your hand. Cubital Tunnel Syndrome occurs when the nerve becomes compressed as it wraps around the inside of the elbow. Symptoms include an aching pain in the inside of the elbow and numbness or tingling of the "pinky" and "ring" fingers. Sometimes people report shooting pain along the forearm, as well as a weak grip.

Radial Tunnel Syndrome is an uncommon condition that results from radial nerve compression. The radial nerve travels down the arm and controls the triceps muscle and the wrist extensor muscles (located at the back of the upper arm and forearm, respectively). Most often, this diagnosis is considered in people who engage in repetitive rotation of the forearm muscles (for example, carpenters or mechanics). In addition to arm pain, you may experience numbness over the back of the hand that extends up the back of the forearm.

Elbow Fractures can occur after a fall on the elbow or an outstretched hand, or a direct blow to the elbow, such as from a car accident.The most common elbow fractures are olecranon fractures and radial head fractures. Symptoms of an elbow fracture include a sudden, severe pain in the elbow and forearm, along with swelling, and painful and/or limited motion

Elbow Dislocation is not common and usually occurs when a person falls onto an outstretched hand. When the hand makes contact with the ground, the force of the fall is transmitted to the elbow, which can rotate or twist it out of its socket. In other words, the bones of the elbow—the upper arm bone (humerus) and two bones from the forearm (radius and ulna)—are separated from their normal alignment. Along with significant elbow pain, a dislocation often causes visible elbow deformity, swelling, and bruising around the joint. Some people also experience numbness and tingling of the hand.

If you are having pain or issues with your elbow, it is important to recognize early symptoms for the best course of treatment. Please contact our office for a consultation.

For more information or to request an appointment, please contact Dr. Patrick McDaid, M.D. at

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