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Elbow pain

The elbow

The elbow is a hinge joint which connects the upper arm (humerus) to the forearm (radius and ulna). Its primary movements are to bend and straighten the elbow.

What are the common causes of elbow pain?

Common causes of musculoskeletal related pains tend to originate from bones, ligaments, tendons and muscles. These symptoms tend to settle with time and good self-management.

These pains may be a result of an acute injury or a flare up of a long standing issue. Simple advice is keep active and keep moving, it will often settle with time.

Click on the following information to find out about common conditions related with elbow pain.

Common conditions of the Elbow

See below for the common signs and symptoms with a link to the MSK Matters page on how best to manage it.

Tennis Elbow

  • Pain felt on outside of elbow
  • Occasionally pain may travel down the forearm
  • Pain also felt during twisting forearm, opening a jar, and opening a door handle
  • Sometimes may feel difficulty in extending the arm

Golfer’s Elbow

  • Pain felt on inside of elbow
  • Pain may travel down the forearm
  • Pain can be either on gripping the hand, flexing the wrist or rotating the forearm inwards.

Osteoarthritis of the elbow

  • Pain felt on elbow
  • Noise or crepitus with elbow movements
  • Stiffness in the joint for less than 30 minutes in the morning
  • Swelling noticeable on elbow at advanced stages
  • Occasionally numbness & tingling may be felt on ring and little fingers

Olecranon bursitis

  • Pain on back of elbow, increases with elbow bending
  • Pain on leaning down on the elbow
  • Tenderness on the back of elbow
  • Noticeable swelling on back of elbow
  • If there are any signs of infection – redness, heat, swelling and tenderness worsening or feeling unwell seek medical attention immediately.

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Is your pain coming from somewhere else?

Elbow pain can be as result of pain elsewhere in the body, it can be from the neck or shoulder. Commonly this is known as referred pain. Your physiotherapist or GP can advise on how to manage this with advice and exercises.

When to seek medical advice

The above advice can help you to manage your condition at home. The majority of musculoskeletal conditions get better within six to eight weeks although sometimes they can persist for longer but this doesn’t mean there is something seriously wrong.

However, rarely, musculoskeletal symptoms can be caused by something more serious and it is important for you to know when to seek advice. We would advise if you experience any of the following you should seek the advice of you GP.

 

  • the pain you are experiencing is getting worse rather than better despite following the self-management guidance above for the condition  in the time frame expected
  • symptoms have not been significantly helped by a trial of medication as expected
  • you feel unwell and suffer symptom such as fever, night sweats or weight loss
  • you experience pain at night, possibly worse than during the day that prevents you from sleeping due to increasing pain and/or difficulty lying flat.
  • you experience a change in your ability to walk including balance problems or weakness/heaviness in your legs
  • you develop a hot and swollen joint for no apparent reason
  • early morning stiffness, lasting for longer than 30 minutes

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