Elbow pain is a common complaint that can affect individuals of all ages and lifestyles. It can range from mild discomfort to intense pain that limits mobility. In this article, we will explore the most common causes of elbow pain based on scientific evidence and discuss available treatment options.
The elbow is an essential joint in the human arm that allows for a wide range of movements, including flexion, extension, and rotation. Due to its constant use in daily activities and sports, the elbow is prone to injuries and painful conditions.
Common Causes of Elbow Pain
1. Lateral Epicondylitis (Tennis Elbow)
Lateral epicondylitis, commonly known as tennis elbow, is a frequent cause of elbow pain. It occurs when the tendons that attach to the outer part of the elbow become inflamed due to repetitive motions or excessive strain.
References: Bisset, L., Paungmali, A., & Vicenzino, B. (2005). A systematic review and meta-analysis of clinical trials on physical interventions for lateral epicondylalgia. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 39(7), 411-422.
2. Medial Epicondylitis (Golfer's Elbow)
Medial epicondylitis, or golfer’s elbow, is similar to tennis elbow but affects the inner part of the elbow. Tendons in this area become inflamed due to activities involving a strong grip and repetitive forearm twisting.
References: Johnson, G. W., Cadwallader, K., Scheffel, S. B., & Epperly, T. D. (2007). Treatment of medial epicondylitis with a novel cryotherapeutic device. The American Journal of Sports Medicine, 35(5), 844-850.
3. Biceps Tendinitis
Biceps tendinitis occurs when the tendons connecting the biceps muscle to the elbow bone become inflamed. This can be caused by aging, injuries, or repetitive movements involving elbow flexion.
References: Kim, S. H., & Ha, K. I. (2000). Arthroscopic treatment of complete tears of the subscapularis tendon in athletes: A report of 29 cases. The American Journal of Sports Medicine, 28(5), 643-646.
4. Ulnar Collateral Ligament (UCL) Injuries
The ulnar collateral ligament is essential for elbow stability. Injuries to this ligament, often referred to as “pitcher’s elbow” due to its frequency in baseball pitchers, can be painful and limit elbow function.
References: Frangiamore, S. J., & Lynch, T. S. (2016). Medial elbow instability. Current Reviews in Musculoskeletal Medicine, 9(2), 195-202.
Treatment of Elbow Pain
The treatment of elbow pain depends on the underlying cause and the severity of the condition. Treatment options include:
1. Physical Therapy
Physical therapy plays a crucial role in elbow pain treatment. Strengthening and stretching exercises, along with manual therapy techniques, can improve mobility and alleviate pain.
References: Struijs, P. A., Damen, P. J., Bakker, E. W., Blankevoort, L., & Assendelft, W. J. (2002). Manipulation of the wrist for management of lateral epicondylitis: a randomized pilot study. Physical Therapy, 82(8), 672-682.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and pain relievers can help reduce pain and inflammation.
References: Cochrane, D. J. (2004). Ankle joint flexibility and running economy. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 18(2), 274-278.
3. Platelet-Rich Plasma (PRP) Injections
PRP injections can provide temporary and/or definitive relief from pain and inflammation, especially in cases of severe lateral or medial epicondylitis.
References: Krogh, T. P., Bartels, E. M., Ellingsen, T., Stengaard-Pedersen, K., Buchbinder, R., & Fredberg, U. (2013). Comparative effectiveness of injection therapies in lateral epicondylitis: a systematic review and network meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. The American Journal of Sports Medicine, 41(6), 1435-1446.
In severe cases or when other treatment options have not been successful, surgery may be necessary. This may include repairing damaged tendons or ligaments.
References: Hohmann, E., Tetsworth, K., & Glatt, V. (2019). Open versus minimally invasive release for lateral epicondylitis: a meta-analysis. The American Journal of Sports Medicine, 47(8), 2002-2010.
Elbow pain can be debilitating and affect the quality of life of those who experience it. It is crucial to seek medical attention if you have persistent elbow pain to identify the underlying cause and receive appropriate treatment. Rehabilitation, medications, and, in some cases, surgery can help alleviate pain and restore elbow function.