Elbow Pain

The elbow is a very complex joint formed by an interaction of three arm bones. Moreover, there are numerous muscles attached to the joint, which play a critical role in numerous arm movements. Besides muscle, many tendons, ligaments and nerves cross the elbow joint. The elbow joint is designed to withstand a fair amount of stress but in some individuals, it can wear out prematurely.

Damage to any one of these structures can cause elbow pain. Because of frequent use of the elbow joint in everyday life, the joint and ligaments often get severely stressed Elbow pain is very common and has many causes. It is important to make the right diagnosis so proper and adequate treatment can be provided before the injury becomes permanent.

In many individuals, the most common cause of elbow pain is over use of the elbow. Overuse occurs during sporting activities and a variety of work habits. Common sports that affect the elbow include golf, tennis or similar racquet sports. Other individuals who use the computer key board, machinists and laborers can also develop elbow pain from overuse.

Disorders of elbow pain

Cubital tunnel syndrome occurs when the nerve on the inside of the elbow is irritated or traumatized. This syndrome often occurs in people who constantly rest the elbow on a table and use a keyboard. In some individuals, the nerve on the outside of the elbow can get irritated or trapped and often leads to forearm arm pain

Dislocation of the elbow is rare but can occur. Dislocations do occur in children when the arm is pulled forcefully.

Sometimes a fall can result in an elbow fracture. Children often sustain elbow fractures that take a long time to heal, and the majority require surgery. Individuals who regularly play golf often develop irritation of the nerves and strain injury.  In most cases, rest and ice will suffice. Similarly, pitchers who throw the baseball also develop tendonitis of the elbow joint. In many sporting individuals, both the ligament and tendons can tear and lead to constant nagging pain (tendonitis).

Individuals who constantly rest on their elbow can develop olecranon bursitis. This disorder results in fluid buildup in the elbow joint. Like all other joints in the body, the elbow also is affected by osteoarthritis. However, arthritis is usually seen in middle age or later in life.

Diagnosis and Treatment

The diagnosis of elbow pain can be difficult as in many cases there may be no identifiable cause. X rays may be required to rule out fractures and in some cases MRI is required to look for fluid collection or soft tissue injury. If an infection is suspected, the doctor will remove the fluid from the joint to look for bacteria.


The majority of cases of elbow pain are not serious but because the elbow continues to be used in everyday life, the pain can affect  lifestyle.

Ice applied for 20 minutes every 4-6 hours can help reduce swelling in the first few days after injury. If the swelling is persistent, one can also apply a compression bandage and leep the arm elevated while resting.

Pain medications are often required for elbow pain. In most cases over the counter pain medications will suffice. It is the rare individual who requires prescription strength pain medications.

Steroid injections are an option for individuals who do not respond to supportive measures. The steroid injections can be done 1-3 times a year and in many cases can reduce elbow inflammation and pain.

Surgery is sometimes required for elbow pain. However, unlike the past, surgery today is done using a tiny camera and small incisions. The technique can help diagnose and treat a number of conditions. In most cases of elbow injuries, your doctor may recommend physical or occupational therapy to aid healing and help prevent future problems.

Physical therapy is essential for all individuals who have a stiff elbow or have a limited range of motion. Physical therapy is best started after pain and swelling have subsided. Physical therapy can help improve motion, increase strength and help return the elbow to the original level of function.


Individuals who participate in sports should warm up prior to exercise. Stretching the muscle increases blood flow and can help prevent injury to the elbow. It is important to stretch both before and after each exercise.
If you do perform repetitive work, use ergonomically designed equipment and do take a break from work. If you are active in sports, wear an Ace bandage or some type of protective gear to prevent elbow injuries.

San Francisco Neck Pain Multi-Disciplinary Approach

The San Francisco Multi-Specialty Medical Group (SFMMG) provides Full Spectrum care for your Elbow. Our physicians and staff members represent a number of specialties including:

Orthopedic Medicine 
• Physiatry Chiropractic
Physical Therapy

Being able to offer appropriate, comprehensive and timely diagnosis and treatment in one location. Please call to schedule an appointment with our physicians at one of our locations.