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Elbow Pain: Reaching for Solutions
Medically reviewed by Pat Denton, MD Pee Dee Orthopaedic Associates
“No matter what, I’m going to finish this (golf, tennis, gardening, carpentry, painting, insert your activity). An attitude like that can lead to success. However, it can also lead to a painful elbow due to Tendonitis or Bursitis. FIRST, SOME BACKGROUND. Three long bones meet in the elbow, forming a hinge joint supported by muscles. Your elbow joint and muscles are critical to reaching, lifting and rotating.
Tendonitis. Overuse can result in small tears in the tendon attaching the muscle to the bone. Irritation, inflammation and pain result.
Bursitis is an inflammation of a fluid-filled pouch that lubricates the movement of skin over the bone. Arthritis, infection, a blow to the joint or even long-term leaning on your elbows can trigger bursitis.
“An orthopedic specialist will start by recommending non-surgical treatments,” says Orthopedic Surgeon Dr. Pat Denton of Pee Dee Orthopaedic Associates. “If home treatments and physical therapy don’t help, arthroscopy or full surgery may be the next steps to consider.”
Using over-the-counter medications, such as ibuprofen and naproxen, can help along with R.I.C.E.:
Rest the elbow by taking a break from the problem activity.
Ice applied for 15 minutes can help reduce pain and swelling.
Compression with an elastic bandage reduces swelling.
Elevate the elbow on a pillow and, if possible, keep it higher than your heart.
If you don’t improve after several days, see your physician or orthopedic specialist.
A physician may try injecting corticosteroids or prescribing pain medication.
If the condition does not improve in 6 months, surgery by an orthopedic specialist is the next option.
Bone fractures or torn tendons require immediate attention by an Emergency Physician or Orthopedic Specialist.
AVOIDING ELBOW PAIN
Try these tips to ease the work your elbows have to do:
- Take frequent breaks from repetitive tasks.
- Use two hands on heavy tools and tennis backhands.
- Try oversized grips on your golf clubs.
- Put grip tape on your hand tool handles and wear gloves or use power tools.
- Use two hands to carry heavy items and carry them in front of you, not at the side.
We know you love your golf or tennis or gardening. Or you have to work at your construction job. Just keep an eye out for recurring pain that doesn’t go away with the R-I-C-E treatment. Reach out to an orthopedic specialist before real damage is done to your elbow.
Sources include: McLeod Health, Arthritis Foundation, National Institutes of Health, National Health Service (UK), American College of Rheumatology, National Institute of Arthritis & Musculoskeletal & Skin Diseases