There are many different types of elbow pain. Elbow pain may be due to muscles, ligaments tendons, bones or bursae (little pads of fat). Treatment of elbow pain depends on the cause of the pain.
1.MEDIAL EPICONDYLITIS (“golfer’s elbow” / “ little leaguer’s elbow”) affects the inner tendons in the elbow eg after repetitive throwing, during the downward swing of a golf club or after repetitive activity such as hammering. It usually causes pain along the inside of the elbow and is made worse by wrist movements.
2.LATERAL EPICONDYLITIS (“tennis elbow”) affects the tendons on the outside of the elbow eg after playing racquet sports, typing for long periods of time, painting or cooking. Mechanics, plumbers and carpenters also tend to get this type of problem. Symptoms such as pain or burning along the outside of the elbow and problems when gripping are common. Rest, physiotherapy ( including massage, trigger point therapy, dry needling, electrotherapy, strength and range of motion exercises) and the use of a brace will usually help to improve the symptoms of medial and lateral epicondylitis.
RSI is an umbrella term referring to various conditions caused by repetitive tasks or sustained positions. Tennis elbow and golfer’s elbow are examples of conditions caused by overuse.
3.OLECRANON BURSITIS (“student’s elbow”, “miner’s elbow”, “draftsman’s elbow”) affects the bursae (small sacs of fluid that help protect the joints). Olecranon bursitis affects the bursae that protect the pointy bone of the elbow. It may be caused by leaning on the elbow for too long, a blow to the elbow, arthritis or infection. Symptoms include swelling, pain and difficulty moving the elbow. If there is warmth and redness, an infection may be present. In the absence of an infection, elbow pads, anti-inflammatories and physiotherapy may help this condition.
4.OSTEOARTHRITIS (OA) affects the cartilage and causes the tissue to wear down and become damaged. It may be caused by an elbow injury or wear and tear on the joints as we get older. Symptoms include pain, difficulty bending or straightening the elbow, a locking sensation in the elbow, a grating sound during movement and swelling. Medication and physiotherapy including joint mobilization, joint traction, massage, range of motion exercise, strengthening exercises and electrotherapy are often beneficial for this condition.
5.DISLOCATION OR FRACTURE OF THE ELBOW is usually caused by an injury to the elbow such as a fall on an outstretches arm or elbow. Dislocation occurs when a bone moves from its usual position. A fracture occurs when a bone cracks or breaks. Your doctor can move the dislocated bone back into place and put the dislocated or fractured elbow in a splint or cast. Physiotherapy is very helpful to restore range of motion and strength once the splint or cast has been removed.
6.LIGAMENT STRAINS AND SPRAINS may be the result of trauma or repeated stress. The ligament may be stretched, partially torn or completely torn. Symptoms include pain, joint instability, swelling and/or range of motion problems. Treatment may include rest, ice, anti-inflammatories, bracing of the elbow and physiotherapy including electrotherapy, dry needling, kinesiotaping and home exercises.
7.OSTEOCHONDRITIS DISSECANS (Panner’s disease”) occurs when small pieces of cartilage and bone become dislodged in the elbow joint eg as a result of a sporting injury. Symptoms may include pain and tenderness on the outside of the elbow, trouble extending the arm, or a feeling that the joint is locking. Immobilisation of the elbow combined with physiotherapy treatment often gets good results for this condition.
HOW CAN I PREVENT ELBOW PROBLEMS?
Most elbow problems are a result of overuse and injury. You can help to prevent them by correcting improper sporting techniques, using a proper-sized grip on sports equipment, using correct tension on racquets, warming up and stretching properly and using elbow padding or braces. It is also important to take breaks from repetitive tasks.
If you have long-lasting or severe elbow pain, talk to our reception staff about booking in for a physiotherapy appointment so that we can determine the main cause of your problem and develop a treatment plan. You do not need a referral from your GP to see a physiotherapist but if the physiotherapists think that you need any additional tests done, they will contact your GP to inform them.