Your elbow is a complex joint formed by three long bones in your arm. Four sets of muscles help move the joint and are attached to the bones by thick tendons. Damage to any of these structures or to the network of nerves in the joint, blood vessels and ligaments can lead to elbow pain.
Most elbow pain isn't serious, but because you use your elbow in so many ways, elbow pain can definitely affect your life. Elbow pain often improves with self-care measures such as rest, icing and elevation of the arm.
If your elbow pain does not improve within 1-2 weeks it is advisable to seek professional care where a diagnosis can be established and a course of physical therapy will likely be recommended. In addition to physical therapy, specialties such as acupuncture and massage therapy can help resolve elbow pain and may also prevent the development of more chronic elbow problems.
Most elbow pain results from overuse injuries. These may be sports-related (i.e. golf, tennis) or the result of activities and professions that require repetitive hand, wrist or arm movements. Elbow pain is sometimes due to arthritis, but in general, your elbow joint is much less prone to wear-and-tear damage than other joints.
Common causes of elbow pain include:
- Cubital tunnel syndrome, which occurs when the ulnar nerve on the inside of your elbow is irritated or injured
- Elbow fracture
- Golfer’s elbow
- Tennis elbow
- Ligament sprains and tears
- Little league elbow syndrome (pitcher's elbow) — an injury mainly affecting children and rapidly growing adolescents involved in throwing sports such as baseball
- Olecranon bursitis — inflammation of a small sac of fluid (olecranon bursa) on the tip of your elbow
- Osteochondritis dissecans
- Radial tunnel syndrome, which occurs when the radial nerve becomes compressed just beyond your elbow (sometimes called resistant tennis elbow)
- Sprains and strains