The elbow is a hinge joint (see Figure 1) that allows the arm to be bent or straightened. It is surrounded by muscles, ligaments and tendons (Figure 2). A muscle is a band or a bundle of fibrous tissue that has the ability to contract producing movement in or maintaining the position of parts of the body. A tendon is a flexible but inelastic cord of strong fibrous collagen tissue attaching a muscle to a bone. A ligament is a short band of tough, flexible fibrous connective tissue which connects two bones or cartilages or holds together a joint.
Facts about elbow pain
Overuse or misuse of the elbow can lead to pain. Simple strains are caused by injuries to muscles or tendons and sprains are caused by injuries to ligaments. Injuries are usually caused by an injury to muscle. Ligament or tendon injuries are usually caused by overuse. The pain usually comes from strained tendons or inflamed soft tissues. Most elbow pain has a simple cause and clears up within a few days.
What can I do to help myself to get better?
Getting the balance right between rest and activity: If you have elbow pain, try to change the way you do things or do less of them. It is useful to think about what makes the pain worse and avoid those activities and repetitive activities as much as you can, particularly over a long period.
Some exercises can be useful to ease pain and help your elbow to move better. If your pain increases when exercising, take regular breaks or consider not doing them at all. When your elbow pain is better, do keep exercising to stay strong and mobile. These simple exercises may be helpful:
Painkillers: Over the counter painkillers may be helpful, such as paracetamol, ibuprofen or creams that you can buy at the chemist. Your pharmacist will be able to give you expert advice.
Elbow Strap: A tennis elbow strap or clasp can reduce the strain on your elbow tendons when lifting, doing housework or playing sport. They are available from chemists and sports shops.
- Protection – protect the affected area from further injury; for example, by using a support and avoiding painful activities.
- Rest – Optimal loading of the elbow is advised to maintain function but avoid aggravating pain.
- Ice – apply an ice pack to the affected area for 15-20 minutes every two to three hours. A bag of frozen peas, or similar, will work well. Wrap the ice pack in a towel to avoid it directly touching your skin and causing an ice burn.
- Compression – use elastic compression bandages during the day to limit swelling.
- Elevation – keep the injured body part raised above the level of the heart whenever possible. This may also help to reduce swelling.
When should I see my doctor?
Elbow pain usually gets better on its own or with self-help treatments. However, see your doctor / GP
- After a sudden traumatic injury such as a fall onto a hard surface or a direct impact on the elbow or sudden twisting of the arm
- If you are worried that you may have broken your arm
- If the pain is severe
- You have tingling or numbness in the arm or fingers
- If the limb feels cold
- If it is severely swollen or appears to be deformed
- If the elbow becomes hot, red, swollen and tender you may have an infection of the joint, so you should see your doctor straight away. You may also feel feverish.
Most common conditions of the Elbow
If you have a diagnosis which does not have a leaflet above, then please contact our clinical support team on 0300 303 8063 and they will work with our clinical team to find you some more information.