Elbow Pain May Be Caused By Elbow Muscles

Elbow muscles can be injured and cause pain, but the problem may not be the elbow muscles.  To decide what to do about your elbow pain, it will help to know a little about the anatomy of the elbow joint.

The junction of three bones forms the elbow joint.  The humerus is the upper arm bone, the ulna is the larger forearm bone, and the radius is the smaller of the two forearm bones.  The ulna is on the inside of the elbow joint and forms a cup-like shape where it connects with the humerus.  The radius is situated on the outside of the actual joint, and also has a cupped shape allowing it to move around the base of the humerus.  The elbow is not a simple joint.  It does the simple job of bending and unbending, but it also allows the hand to move palm up or down.

Ligaments and tendons are what hold our bones together.  The old song “the hip bone is connected to the leg bone”, that connection is only possible with ligaments.  There are three ligaments that support the elbow joint.  The medial collateral ligament passes over the inside of the elbow joint.  The lateral collateral ligament and the annular ligament also stretch between the three different bones that make up the elbow joint.  Strains of these bands, and the resultant pain, is called tendonitis.

Bones are the structure of a joint and ligaments hold the bones together, so muscles do the work of causing movement of the joint.  There are six specific elbow muscles that cause movement of the elbow joint.  Each muscle works in concert with the others to move the joint in specific ways.  Two of the muscles are the most common cause of pain.  Golfers elbow is most often caused by pain in the pronator teres muscle.  The extensor carpi radialis brevis is the muscle involved in tennis elbow.

Tennis elbow is not only caused by playing tennis.  It can be caused by many repetitive motions that involve the muscles of the forearm including using a screwdriver, washing window, and of course the backhand in tennis.  Tennis elbow pain presents with local tenderness and can mostly be felt on the outside of the elbow and sometimes will result in swelling.  Usually you are still able to have full range of motion since the inside of the joint is not affected.  

Treatment for tennis elbow should include ice packs and anti inflammatory medications, such as ibuprofen, to reduce any inflammation and swelling that are present.  This alone will reduce pain.  Some people find relief through wearing a tennis elbow brace.  These are especially useful if you cannot rest the elbow joint adequately due to your job responsibilities.  Persistent pain can be treated with cortisone injections into the joint.  These will reduce inflammation dramatically, but there are risks and some pain involved with the actual injection, so they are usually reserved as a last resort treatment before surgical repair is contemplated.

Treatment for golfer’s elbow is much the same as that for tennis elbow.  Golfer’s elbow is tendonitis of a particular ligament in the elbow joint.  It can be caused by a golf swing, but also by other repetitive motions.  Pain in golfer’s elbow is usually localized on the inside of the elbow joint.  Treatment includes rest, ice and anti inflammatory medication.  Using a brace can prevent further injury and speed recovery.

Strengthening the muscles that support and move the elbow joint can help prevent injuries or re-injury.  Strong muscles will help to lessen the strain on tendons and ligaments, which prevents tendonitis.  Strengthening the surrounding muscles is an important step toward rehabilitation and prevention of further injuries.