If you suffer from elbow pain, you may find yourself wondering when you should see your doctor about it. Most elbow injuries and pain are minor, like hurting the “funny bone” and something you can treat on your own at home, but it is important to know when to see the right doctor in New York City.
After all, you don’t want to worsen an injury by continuing use of your elbow when it needs rest. You also don’t want to put up with pain when you don’t have to.
Although small, the elbow is a complex part of the body. It is made of ligaments, cartilage, fluid, tendons, muscles, and bone. It facilitates a range of movements in your hands and arms.
These include flexing, extension, and rotation. Many of these movements can be combined.
Symptoms of an Elbow Injury
Joint pain is mostly caused by arthritis or problems that are caused by wear and tear. Often, elbow pain comes from repeated motions with the wrist, hands, and arms. These result from hobbies, work, and sports. This is called overuse pain.
The following are common signs of elbow injuries:
- Pain when using your elbow for actions like throwing
- Visible changes and deformities
- Decrease in mobility
- Decrease in arm strength or elbow strength
- Pain when forming a fist
- Tingling and numbness in the elbow, hands, wrist, and arms
Causes of Elbow Pain
When you overuse your elbow, you can cause wear and tear problems.
The following offers a closer look at some common elbow injuries and overuse injuries that cause pain:
- Elbow fractures: If you have a broken bone in your elbow or lower or upper arm bone, you may experience visible deformity or considerable pain. An elbow fracture is usually caused by a sudden blow, like a fall at work or a car accident. Remember that you can sometimes move broken elbows, so movement doesn’t automatically mean it isn’t broken.
- Stress fractures: Stress fractures are small cracks in an arm bone. They typically result from overuse but are much more common in the feet and lower legs than in the elbow.
- Dislocation: If bones in the upper arm and forearms go out of place, the elbow will be dislocated.
- Sprains: Elbows are sprained when ligaments stretch too much or are torn to the point of injury. If it’s the muscles that are stretched and torn, it is a strain. Strains and sprains are both common injuries from lifting items that are too heavy. They are also a result of sports injuries.
- Bursitis: This is when the elbow joint gets inflamed. Specifically, your elbow’s bursa (small fluid-filled sacs) start to swell. This is usually an overuse injury due to repetitive motions, a common result of overuse at work.
- Tendonitis: This is when the connective tissues and tendons of the elbow become inflamed.
- Ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) or Tommy John injury: This happens when elbow ligaments become loose, torn, or frayed because of overuse.
- Golfer’s elbow or flexor tendonitis: This is a condition where the forearm tendons get attached to the bone inside the elbow. Golfer’s elbow usually affects the inside portion of the elbow.
- Thrower’s arm or valgus extension overload: This is another injury that stems from overuse. It leads to cartilage deterioration, as well as bone spurs.
- Tennis elbow or lateral epicondylitis: This is when the tendons that link the forearm muscles to the elbow get inflamed. The biggest difference between tennis and golfer’s elbow is that tennis elbow affects your elbow on the outside.
- Dislocated elbow: When you dislocate your elbow, one of the three bones in this part of your body falls out of place. For adults, this most commonly happens when you fall and use your hands to catch yourself. For toddlers, it can also be the result of swinging them by their forearms.
Other pain may be caused by the following:
- Nerve entrapment: This refers to nerves that are trapped or pinched, causing too much pressure on the elbow nerves or ulnar nerve. Think of it as carpal tunnel but on your elbow instead of your wrist. On the elbow, it is called cubital tunnel syndrome, similar to carpal tunnel syndrome in the hand.
- Osteochondritis dissecans: This is more common in children. This is due to a lack of blood flow, causing bones to loosen, separate, or crack. While it can affect the elbow, it more commonly affects the knees.
- Rheumatoid arthritis: This is a type of arthritis that can affect your elbow. It occurs when there is chronic inflammation in the elbow. With rheumatoid arthritis, your immune system attacks healthy tissues in your body. This leads to swelling.
- Osteoarthritis: This is more common with joints that bear weight. It is when the elbow cartilage gets worn out or damaged.
- Gout: Gout is another type of arthritis. Instead of leaving your body, uric acid builds up in your tissue as crystals. It can be very painful and debilitating.
- Lupus: With this disease, your immune system attacks areas of your body that are healthy, including your organs and joints. Although it more commonly affects feet and hands, it can also affect elbows.
- Lyme disease: This condition is caused by ticks. It can lead to joint pain throughout the body, as well as problems with the nervous system.
Home Management of Elbow Injuries
Elbow pain is not often that serious, and neither do you need to quickly go to the hospital for it. Many times, the pain can be managed at home. The first thing to do is to prevent further injury.
RICE is an acronym that will help you remember this remedy. It stands for Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation.
If there is a particular activity that led to the pain, make sure to give that a rest. Treat the injury by applying a cold compress on the problematic area for 20 minutes three times a day. Compress the area by wrapping your elbow to ease the swelling. Elevate your elbow above your heart to further reduce swelling.
Protect the Elbow
When your elbow is injured, make sure you are careful and protect it from further injuries.
When to See the Doctor
Many times, elbow pain is manageable. Seek emergency care if the injury is as serious as a bone jutting out or if you observe any deformities.
The following symptoms are signs that elbow injuries need to be addressed by a doctor.
- The pain is continuous and severe when the arm isn’t in use.
- There is persistent redness, bruising, swelling, or pain on the elbow.
- The elbow and forearm have limited mobility even for everyday activities, including an inability to turn the arm, so your palm faces up or down perpetually.
- You have been trying to manage the injury with RICE but are not seeing any improvements.
- Your arm or hand is numb, weak, or tingling.
- The redness, pain, or swelling worsens, especially when you have a fever.
- A bone is protruding.
- Your elbow has an obvious deformity.
Our doctors are orthopedic specialists who cover all injuries on the hand, arm, or elbow. Treatment options depend on the individual and their specific injury. It may include bracing, physical therapy, injections, and surgical options.
In many cases, we suggest the previously-mentioned home solutions be done individually or as a supplement to professional treatment in our clinics in Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens, Staten Island, and the Bronx.
Physical therapy can help you regain your elbow’s range of motion. It can also help reduce pain. You will also be trained on how to do certain elbow exercises at home.
Casts or Splints
In the case of a fracture or broken bone on the elbow, you may need a splint or brace to limit movement in the injured area.
Braces or Splints
Certain elbow injuries resulting from overuse may also require you to wear a brace or splint. In cases like these, the brace would help prevent future injuries from daily activities.
Soft tissue massage or ice massage are also some suggested treatments to help relieve elbow pain.
We will always treat the underlying cause of the elbow pain to stop it at the source. However, there may be a need to prescribe painkillers or recommend over-the-counter options to manage pain while waiting for more aggressive treatment to relieve pain.
Steroid injections can provide temporary relief for certain types of elbow pain, including discomfort caused by arthritis.
Platelet-Rich Plasma Injections
This is a newer treatment for tennis and golfer’s elbow. Your doctor takes a blood sample, adjusts it to increase the concentration of platelets, and then injects it into the injured area. It is an alternative to steroid injections.
Some fractures may require surgery to realign your bones properly. Surgery is also an option for treating elbow pain that cannot be addressed by other non-invasive treatments.
The Neuro Injury Care Institute Advantage
Our New York City clinic diagnoses and treats a variety of elbow-related issues, including those from work-related injuries and car accidents.
The Bottom Line
If your elbow has pain, limited mobility, or obvious deformities, have our doctors examine it as soon as possible. With immediate diagnosis and treatment, you can quickly get on the road to recovery.