At one time or another, everyone has had an elbow problem that may
have caused pain or swelling. Most of the time our body movements do not cause
problems, but it's not surprising that symptoms develop from everyday wear and
tear or overuse.
Elbow problems can be minor or serious and may
include symptoms such as pain, swelling, numbness, tingling, weakness, or
changes in temperature or color. Home treatment often can relieve minor aches
and pains. To better understand elbow problems, you may want to review the
structure and function of the elbow. See a picture of the
Most people may not remember
having a specific injury when their symptoms get worse over time, but overuse
problems are actual injuries. They occur when too much stress is placed on a
joint or other tissue, often when you overdo an
activity or repeat an activity over and over. Overuse
Tendinosis, which is a series of microtears in the
connective tissue in or around the tendon.
Soreness or pain felt on the outside
(lateral) part of the elbow may be
tennis elbow (lateral epicondylitis). This is the most
common type of
tendinopathy that affects the elbow and most often is
caused by overuse of the forearm muscles. This overuse may occur during sports,
such as tennis, swimming, golf, and sports involving throwing; jobs, such as
carpentry or plumbing; or daily activities, such as lifting objects or
Soreness or pain in the inner (medial) part of the elbow
golfer's elbow. In children who participate in sports
that involve throwing, the same elbow pain may be described as
Little Leaguer's elbow.
Ulnar nerve compression, which is the
pinching of the ulnar nerve in the elbow joint. This usually occurs with
Treatment for an elbow problem may include first aid
measures; application of a brace, splint, or cast;
physical therapy; or medicine.
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Most minor elbow problems go away
on their own. Home treatment is usually all that is needed to relieve your
Home treatment for minor problems
Home treatment may
help relieve pain, swelling, and stiffness.
If you have swelling,
remove all rings, bracelets, watches, or any other jewelry that goes around your
wrist or fingers of the affected arm. It will be more harder to remove the
jewelry later if swelling increases.
sling if it makes you more comfortable and supports
your elbow. If you feel you need to use a sling for longer than 48 hours,
discuss your symptoms with your doctor.
An elbow support, such as
an elbow sleeve, forearm wrap, or
arm sling, may help rest your elbow joint, relieve
stress on forearm muscles, and protect the joint area during an activity. A
counterforce brace may be helpful for tennis elbow
symptoms. Follow the manufacturer's directions for using the
Gently massage or rub the area to relieve pain and encourage
blood flow. Do not massage the elbow if it causes pain.
After 48 to
72 hours, if swelling is gone, apply
heat and begin
gentle exercise with the aid of moist heat to help
restore and maintain flexibility. Some experts recommend alternating between
hot and cold treatments.
Do not smoke. Smoking slows healing
because it decreases blood supply and delays tissue repair. For more
information, see the topic Quitting Smoking.
Medicine you can buy without a prescription
Try a nonprescription
medicine to help treat your fever or pain:
Aspirin (also a nonsteroidal
anti-inflammatory drug), such as Bayer or Bufferin
Talk to your child’s doctor before switching back and
forth between doses of acetaminophen and ibuprofen. When you switch between two
medicines, there is a chance your child will get too much medicine.
Be sure to follow these
safety tips when you use a nonprescription medicine:
Carefully read and follow all directions
on the medicine bottle and box.
Stretch before and after physical exercise, sports, or
recreational activities to warm up your muscles.
stretching and range-of-motion (ROM) exercises with
your fingers and wrist to prevent stiffening of the tendons that affect your
elbows. Gently bend, straighten, and rotate your wrist. If you have any pain,
stop the exercises.
Use the correct techniques (movements) or
positions during activities so that you do not strain your
Avoid overusing your arm doing repeated movements that
can injure your
bursa or tendons. In daily routines or hobbies,
examine activities in which you make repeated arm movements.
lessons to learn the proper technique for sports. Have a trainer or person who
is familiar with sports equipment check your equipment to see if it is well
suited for your level of ability, body size, and body strength.
you feel that activities at your workplace are causing pain or soreness from
overuse, call your human resources department for information on alternative
ways of doing your job or to discuss equipment modifications or other job
How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.