What are the Most Common Elbow Problems?

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  • Written By: Nat Robinson
  • Edited By: J.T. Gale
  • Images By: Karen Roach, Galina Barskaya, Sentello, James Lee, Nebari, Gino Santa Maria, Alila, Leschnyhan, Paul Hakimata
  • Last Modified Date: 10 October 2016
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Many people will be impacted by elbow problems at some point in their lives. Discomfort in the elbow may occur for a variety of reasons. The most common problems are injury, sprains, and fractures. Other common problems include arthritis, bursitis, tennis elbow, and golfer's elbow. Symptoms of these problems generally include pain, numbness, tingling, and swelling.

If the elbow becomes overused, injuries may result. An elbow injury can occur from continuously repeating an activity or overdoing an activity at one time. Overusing an elbow may lead to other problems as well. These additional common problems often include a sprain or a fracture.

An elbow sprain is a tear or stretching of a ligament. More than one ligament may be injured in a sprain. This may happen by elbow hyperextension, or jamming. The significance of this injury usually depends on the severity of damage to the ligaments.

Fractures are another type of familiar elbow problems. A fracture may occur when pieces of bone break in the elbow joint. Car accidents, sport activities, and falling down typically are some of the most common causes of this type of injury. An elbow fracture may require a cast or immobilization. Some fractures may require surgery.


Elbow problems may cause arthritis, as well. This is one of the most common causes of elbow pain. There are some specific types of arthritis that generally affect the elbow. These types include rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis.

Bursitis may be an additional problem that could affect the elbow. Olecranon bursitis is an alternative name. Patients with bursitis may have tenderness and swelling behind the elbow joint. This may be the result of constant pressure on the elbow or an injury.

Tennis elbow may also cause elbow problems. Also known as lateral epicondylitis, this condition is an additional leading cause of elbow pain. It can cause inflammation of the tendons in the outer elbow. Pain may result when inflamed tendons are used to bend the wrist backward from the palm. Generally, local tenderness is a persistent issue.

Repetitive movement of the forearms can worsen this condition. These movements may include activities such as window washing, using a screwdriver manually, or hitting a tennis ball with a racket. Generally, most people with tennis elbow are not tennis players. Symptoms of tennis elbow may include pain or soreness in the outer elbow.

Golfer's elbow is another elbow problem. This condition is also known as medial epicondylitis. Pain may radiate in the elbow when inflamed tendons are used to bend the wrist forward, toward the palm. Activities which prompt straining or twisting may intensify this pain.

Strains can result from a golf swing and many other activities. Typically, individuals with golfer's elbow are not golf players. Any repetitious activity causing a bend of the wrist may result in this condition. Pain in the inner elbow and tenderness are general symptoms.

Treatment may vary by the problem presented and its severity. Many types of elbow problems may be treated at home. Other problems may need care by a health care professional. Treatment may be as minor as cold pack applications and resting the elbow. More severe problems may require a cast, prescription medications, cortisone injections, or physical therapy.


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