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Elbow Injuries: General Info

It’s only when you have an injured elbow that you realize how often you use that joint, and how hard it is to avoid moving it.

Your elbow has bone, cartilage, ligaments, tendons, and muscles, attached in ways that allow your arm to bend and straighten, and your forearm to rotate, which in turn allows you to turn your hand palm up or palm down.

A painful elbow can be caused by several conditions or injuries. One of the most common is tennis elbow, known medically as tendonitis or lateral epicondylitis. This injury affects the tendons, which attach muscles to bone. The repeated twisting motions made by tennis players as they wield the racket can inflame the tendons, specifically where the large tendons attach to the outside bony part of the joint.

Of course, it isn’t only tennis players who suffer from tennis elbow. Anyone who makes those twisting movements repeatedly might strain their elbow tendons, simply through overuse of the joint. Treatment normally consists of resting the sore elbow, using ice packs, and taking anti-inflammatory medication. Wearing a simple brace can also help by providing support, preventing you accidentally moving the elbow in a way that hurts and maybe even worsens the injury.

The tendons that attach to the inner part of the elbow aren’t immune to injury. These tendons are used during movements similar to those made by golfers when swinging a club. Overuse leads to inflammation, which leads to pain. The treatment is the same as for tennis elbow and again, wearing a supportive elbow brace can help while healing and also when starting to play again.

Elbow ligaments sometimes get sprained. A sprain occurs when the elbow is hyperextended or jammed, causing the ligament fibers to overstretch and tear. The severity of the injury depends on how many ligaments were involved and how many fibers were torn. It takes time and restricted movement for ligament fibers to heal, so along with rest, ice therapy, and pain medication, wearing a brace can help by preventing excessive movement that might result in further injury.

A dislocated elbow occurs when a sudden trauma forces the bones out of their usual position, stretching or tearing the ligaments that normally hold the joint in place. This is obviously a severe injury resulting in a great deal of pain and shock, and needs immediate medical attention to reposition the joint. Wearing a brace to immobilize the elbow for a period of time is often recommended; because of the severity of a dislocation, it’s important to avoid excessive movement of the joint until the ligaments have time to heal properly.

A fracture of any of the three bones that make up the elbow joint—the humerus, radius, and ulna—also takes time to heal. Sometimes the fracture requires surgery to pin bone fragments back into place. In these situations, an immobilizing brace is used to hold the bones in position for a period of time, followed by the use of a supportive brace and physical therapy to regain mobility and strength in the joint.

Whatever caused your painful elbow, with the correct treatment and enough time you should be able to return to your normal activities with minimal lasting effects.