Elbow Related Conditions
Elbow pain is mostly commonly caused by conditions known as tennis elbow or golfer's elbow. Tennis elbow affects the outer part of the elbow, whereas golfers elbow causes pain on the inside. Both conditions are caused by wear and tear to the tendons ("tendinopathy") where the muscles which move the wrist and fingers fasten onto the elbow. Tennis and golfer's elbow usually cause pain when gripping and lifting heavier items.
Short breaks from repetitive activity can help, but completely resting the elbow should be avoided as keeping the elbow and wrist moving will help to prevent the tendons becoming weak and stiff. Exercises to strengthen the tendon can help to reduce pain. Your physiotherapist will advise you which exercises to perform and videos of the exercises are available in our Exercise Videos section. It may take up to three months for the body to strengthen the muscle and tendons, so make sure that you keep up with your exercises.
The other common cause of pain around the elbow is stiffness after a broken bone.
Upper limb fractures (broken bones in the arm)
Fractures to the bones in the arm can either be managed conservatively (usually immobilised in a sling or plaster) or through fixing them surgically. Your orthopaedic surgeon will decide which option is best for you, based on your x-ray or scan findings. Once the surgeons are happy with how the fracture is healing you will usually be referred to physiotherapy to help you get the movement and strength back into your arm.
Because broken bones have to be immobilised in order to heal, it is usual for the joints around the fracture to become stiff and the muscles to become weak. This can cause pain in around the joint initially, however this usually improves once you get things moving. Once your fracture has healed you should try and use the arm as normally as possible, however, you may have to gradually re-introduce more difficult activities (e.g. heavy lifting). If you have any concerns about specific activities, discuss this with your physiotherapist. Occasionally, broken bones can cause a condition called Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS). If you have developed this condition please click here for more information.
Osteoarthritis (arthritis) is caused by the gradual thinning of the smooth cartilage that lines all of our joints. This is a normal process that happens as we get older, however, it can cause joint pain and stiffness. Using the affected joint will not cause more wear and in-fact too much rest will cause more pain and stiffness in the joint and weakness in the surrounding muscles.
Although arthritis cannot be cured, symptoms can be improved by keeping active and performing regular exercise. Exercising keeps the muscles around the joint strong and flexible which can help to reduce pain and maximise your functional ability. Losing weight can also help with pain from arthritis. If you would like advice about diet and weight loss, community health trainers can give practical advice and support with this. Further information about arthritis can be found here on the Arthritis Research UK website.