Nobody wants to be slowed down from their daily activities. However, elbow pain is not uncommon for athletes, hobbyists, and tradespeople. If you have pain in your elbow when straightening your arm, it may be the result of one of a few common causes.
Pinpointing the cause of your elbow pain is necessary for finding the right solution. As a result, you should look for specific symptoms to know the cause and how you can start the road to recovery.
Why Does My Elbow Hurt When I Extend It?
If you are experiencing pain in or around your elbow and upper arm, you have likely irritated a part of the joint. There are several causes of elbow pain, most often due to irritation of the tendon or parts surrounding the elbow. Pain may result from an elbow injury to your forearm muscle, the tendons around your elbow, or the joint itself.
The following conditions are some of the most common causes of elbow pain.
1. Lateral Epicondylitis (Tennis Elbow)
Tennis elbow, more scientifically known as lateral epicondylitis, is a condition that results from irritation to the muscles or tendons surrounding your elbow. This condition is often the result of either overuse or repetitive usage of the forearm muscles involved in straightening or raising your hand and wrist.
Tennis elbow is an effect of a muscle strain, sprain, or small tears in the tendons that attach the forearm muscles to the bony part on the outside of the elbow. This condition is a common form of tendonitis.
Tennis elbow can affect anyone, but it is more likely to affect people involved in repetitive activities. Although it gets its name for its common effect on tennis players, the condition can also affect golfers and even people in trades like plumbing, painting, or carpentry.
Repetitive movements like painting and swinging a tennis racket can likely cause lateral epicondylitis. People between the ages of 30 and 50 are more at risk of developing the condition.
Symptoms of tennis elbow include pain during any of the following instances
- When it affects the outside of the elbow
- When straightening the hand, arm, or wrist
- When lifting a heavy object
- When making a fist or gripping an object
2. Medial Epicondylitis (Golfer’s Elbow)
Another common overuse injury that affects the elbow joint is golfer’s elbow, also known as medial epicondylitis. Golfer’s elbow is very similar to tennis elbow in that it occurs due to repetitive stress on the joint and the surrounding tendons.
The key difference between the two conditions is that golfer’s elbow is more likely to affect the inside of the elbow than the outside. Golfer’s elbow affects the tendon that attaches your forearm to the bony part on the inside of your elbow, which makes it more noticeable on the inside part of the arm. As a result, golfer’s elbow is distinguishable by the following symptoms:
- Pain affecting the inner part of the elbow
- Stiffness in your elbow or forearm
- Weakness in your hands or wrists
- Numbness or tingling that extends down to the fingers or lower arm
Symptoms of golfer’s elbow are more prominent during activity. Improper technique during sports, such as incorrectly swinging a tennis racket or throwing a baseball with poor form, will exacerbate the injury. Other activities like weightlifting and working with tools can also cause and exacerbate the issue.
Golfer’s elbow most often affects people who engage in repetitive activities that stress the elbow, like certain athletes and those involved in specific trades. Tennis players, baseball players, and golfers are more at risk of developing golfer’s elbow. People who work in certain trades or have hobbies like painting, gardening, and carpentry are also at higher risk.
3. Elbow Bursitis
Elbow bursitis causes swelling and pain around the elbow. Like every joint in the body, the elbow is surrounded by a bursa, a fluid-filled sac that provides protection and support. Bursae work to cushion the joint and provide shock absorption between your bones and muscles.
Elbow bursitis is the result of inflammation in the olecranon bursa. Bursitis occurs when a bursa becomes irritated due to overuse, infection, or injured from some form of trauma.
Anybody can develop elbow bursitis, but it is more common in physically active people. Those who are more at risk for the condition include
- People who play sports or have physical hobbies with repetitive motions
- People with physical jobs
- People with medical conditions like arthritis, diabetes, or thyroid disease.
Tennis, baseball, and golfers are at greater risk due to the repetitive motions involved in each sport. Other non-athletic activities that can lead to bursitis include painting, shoveling, and gardening. Poor posture and spending time in positions that put pressure on your elbow can also put you at risk for bursitis.
If you have elbow bursitis, you will notice swelling around your elbow, pain when you move your elbow, and even discoloration and warmth if there is an infection.
4. Cubital Tunnel Syndrome
Another common cause of pain in the elbow is the result of irritation of a nerve rather than a muscle. Cubital tunnel syndrome affects the ulnar nerve, located inside your elbow.
You may be at a higher risk for cubital tunnel syndrome if you have arthritis or bone spurs in your elbow, keep your elbow bent for long periods, or have injured your elbow in the past. The condition is often caused by overstretching the nerve or putting too much pressure on the nerve.
- If you have cubital tunnel syndrome, you will likely experience the following symptoms:
- Difficulty moving your fingers
- Occasional numbness or tingling in your hand and fingers
- Pain inside the elbow
How Is Elbow Pain Treated?
As frustrating as elbow pain can be, there are many reasons to stay optimistic. Elbow pain is common, and several treatments can help relieve pain and address the root cause of the issue.
On the bright side, despite the several causes of the pain, the treatment options work are overarching and work well for each. If you are experiencing elbow pain, you should consider the following treatments.
Rest Your Elbow
In many cases, elbow pain is a consequence of overuse, especially when dealing with tennis or golfer’s elbow. The best solution to overuse is to rest the elbow to allow the inflammation to subside completely.
In addition to rest, you should use an ice pack to support the reduction of inflammation. In some instances, it may be helpful to prevent movement of your elbow with a brace or splint to help support the healing and recovery process.
Since everyone’s body is different, you cannot expect to receive an exact estimate for an appropriate rest period. Still, you can usually expect relief in about two to six weeks. Once you can move your elbow without pain, you can reintroduce activity.
You should always ease back into activity after a rest period, so do not rush into activity at full capacity right away, or you may reaggravate the injury. Similarly, you should stop at the first sign of pain to avoid worsening your injury.
Try Physical Therapy
Rest is important after an injury, but once your injury has had some time to recover, physical therapy helps to ease you back into activity, avoid aggravation, and even provide relief. You will consult with a physical therapist, and they will develop a personalized treatment plan based on your diagnosis of mild to moderate strengthening exercises to support the area around your elbow.
Physical therapy is a great option for treatment, but it is also a preventative measure, reducing your risk for pain in the future. A proper physical therapy program will allow you to strengthen the forearm muscles and tendons around your elbow to provide more support and take the stress off the joint. As a result, you are less likely to face further injury.
Talk to Your Doctor
If you have tried several remedies and haven’t felt any relief, consult your healthcare provider for medical advice. Your doctor can carry out more comprehensive tests, like an MRI, X-Ray, or Ultrasound. These tests will allow them to make a more precise diagnosis for a more targeted treatment plan.
A medical professional can offer treatments not available to you at home. For example, your doctor can also prescribe antibiotics if you are experiencing a condition like bursitis due to infection.
To fight inflammation and tendinitis, they may even offer a steroid shot that can provide relief. In rare cases, your doctor may recommend surgery to alleviate the problem, depending on the severity of your condition.
How Do I Support My Joints?
Elbow pain can arise for various reasons, from tennis elbow to inflammation of the elbow and tendons. Fortunately, you can find relief in just weeks with the proper treatment plan.
If you are an active person, you are at risk for all ailments, as activity can take a toll on your joints and muscles. Therefore, you must give them the support they deserve.
To provide more support for your joints, try Incrediwear. The scientifically backed technology helps to promote better blood flow to the target area.
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Elbow (Olecranon) Bursitis: Symptoms, Causes & Treatment | Cleveland Clinic