The elbow is one of the most overused joints in the body so it is also one of the most highly susceptible to injury. The elbow joint is actually pretty complex which, unfortunately means that a variety of diseases and injuries can affect it and cause pain, swelling and a number of other symptoms. At the West Coast Center for Orthopedic Surgery and Sports Medicine, we see patients with a wide range of elbow injury and elbow pain. I’m going to outline a few of the most common ones we see and some of the treatment options we usually consider.
BURSITIS: At the back of the elbow is a small, fluid-filled sac that acts as a cushion between the bone and soft tissues. When this bursa becomes irritated and inflamed, more fluid can accumulate, causing elbow pain and swelling. If you are about to start using your elbow in a lot of repetitive movements (i.e. banging a hammer, weight-lifting), you will be less likely to get bursitis if you gradually build up force and repetitions. Stop what you are doing if unusual pain occurs.
GOLFER’S ELBOW: Golfer’s elbow affects the tendons that connect your forearm to the elbow. It causes elbow pain that starts on the inside of your elbow joint and radiates down the forearm. Any repetitive hand, wrist, or forearm motions can lead to golfer’s elbow. Risky sports include tennis, bowling, and baseball — in fact, it’s sometimes called pitcher’s elbow. People may also get it from using tools like screwdrivers and hammers, raking, or painting.
TENNIS ELBOW: Tennis elbow is an overuse injury that results in joint pain that worsens when squeezing objects. Although it’s quite common among tennis players, it can also affect other athletes and individuals as well. Tennis elbow is not as well known as its cousin, golfer’s elbow. Both are forms of elbow tendonitis. The difference is that tennis elbow stems from damage to tendons on the outside of the elbow, while golfer’s elbow is caused by tendons on the inside. Golfer’s elbow is also less common.
TENDONOSIS: Tendonosis is the next level of tendon injury. Tendonosis is actual microtears in the tendon tissue. This happens when you continue to do an activity that causes elbow pain.
OSTEOARTHRITIS OF THE ELBOW: Arthritis of the elbow develops when the cartilage inside your joint starts to thin or becomes damaged, causing elbow pain and a decreased range of motion. Unlike many other forms of arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis and systemic lupus, osteoarthritis does not affect other organs of the body.
SPRAINS: A sprain occurs when the ligaments that support the bones of the elbow joint stretch or tear, causing elbow pain, swelling and bruising. Repetitive motions which place a lot of stress on the inner elbow can cause damage to the ligament. For example, throwers (track and field and ball sports such as baseball) are prone to this injury. Especially if the technique is poor!
TENDONITIS: As mentioned above, tendonitis (also spelled tendinitis) is a common overuse injury, tendonitis occurs when the tendons around your elbow sustain tiny tears or become inflamed and irritated. Simply put, tendons are the ends of muscles. They allow muscles to attach to bones. Put another way, every major muscle in your body emerges as a tendon from one of your bones and inserts as a tendon into another one of your bones.
STRAINS: When the muscles around the elbow become damaged, it’s referred to as an elbow strain. This type of injury has a tendency to cause elbow pain, swelling and a loss of function. This usually occurs when your forearm muscles are stretched beyond their normal range and become torn. Elbow injuries such as these are usually caused by overworking the muscles in your forearm or some sort of blunt force trauma to your elbow such as falling on your elbow.
THROWING INJURY: Common among pitchers and throwing athletes, this injury tends to occur gradually over time, causing pain and limited throwing capabilities. This can also be caused by a single traumatic event associated with a “pop”, swelling and elbow pain.
When you arrive at the West Coast Center for Orthopedic Surgery and Sports Medicine for elbow pain treatment, our priority will be to determine exactly what’s causing your discomfort. To that end, we’ll begin by asking you detailed questions about your symptoms – including when they first appeared and if any activities seem to make them worse.
From there, we’ll perform a physical examination of the joint, evaluating the area for tenderness, pain and swelling. Depending on the findings, we will do Xray and Ultrasound exams in the office and may order a series of other tests – such as an MRI – to confirm a diagnosis and further assess the extent of your injury.
Once we know what’s causing your elbow pain, we can begin treating the underlying injury or disease. Throughout this portion of the process, our goal will be not only to relieve your symptoms – but also to prevent joint damage, reduce inflammation and heal the area from the inside out. We will attempt to accomplish all of this without surgery, instead focusing on minimally-invasive regenerative biologic treatments, such as PRP therapy, bone marrow stem cell therapy, and homeopathic traumeel injections, among others.
Do you have an elbow injury or elbow pain? Are you looking to avoid surgery? If so, please call West Coast Center for Orthopedic Surgery and Sports Medicine today to schedule a consultation. Call 310-416-9700 and ask about a minimally-invasive solution.