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Elbow Problems, Noninjury

Topic Overview

At one time or another, everyone has had an elbow problem that may have caused pain or swelling. Most of the time our body movements do not cause problems, but it's not surprising that symptoms develop from everyday wear and tear or overuse.

Elbow problems can be minor or serious and may include symptoms such as pain, swelling, numbness, tingling, weakness, or changes in temperature or color. Home treatment often can relieve minor aches and pains. To better understand elbow problems, you may want to review the structure and function of the elbow. See a picture of the elbowClick here to see an illustration..

Conditions that may cause elbow symptoms

Overuse elbow problems

Most people may not remember having a specific injury when their symptoms get worse over time, but overuse problems are actual injuries. They occur when too much stress is placed on a joint or other tissue, often when you overdo an activity or repeat an activity over and over. Overuse injuries include:

  • Bursitis. Swelling behind the elbow may be olecranon bursitis (Popeye elbow).
  • Tendinosis, which is a series of microtears in the connective tissue in or around the tendon.
    • Soreness or pain felt on the outside (lateral) part of the elbow may be tennis elbow (lateral epicondylitis). This is the most common type of tendinopathy that affects the elbow and most often is caused by overuse of the forearm muscles. This overuse may occur during sports, such as tennis, swimming, golf, and sports involving throwing; jobs, such as carpentry or plumbing; or daily activities, such as lifting objects or gardening.
    • Soreness or pain in the inner (medial) part of the elbow may be golfer's elbow. In children who participate in sports that involve throwing, the same elbow pain may be described as Little Leaguer's elbow.
  • Ulnar nerveClick here to see an illustration. compression, which is the pinching of the ulnar nerve in the elbow joint. This usually occurs with repeated motions.

Treatment for an elbow problem may include first aid measures; application of a brace, splint, or cast; physical therapy; or medicine.

Check your symptoms to decide if and when you should see a doctor.


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