Overuse Injuries of the Elbow
Overuse injuries in the elbow occur when the elbow is strained by repeated use. Overuse injuries can also be caused by placing too much strain on the elbow at once or engaging in any movement that is damaging to the muscles, joints, or bones in the arm.
Overuse Injuries of the Elbow Anatomy
The elbow is the joint which connects your forearm to your upper arm and gives your arm mobility. It is made up of three bones:
- The humerus, the bone in your upper arm
- The radius, the bone on the thumb side of the forearm
- The ulna, the bone on the pinky-side of the forearm
These bones have bumps called “condyles”, which give shape to the elbow. These bones are also bound to muscle with various tendons and bound to each other by ligaments.
Types of Overuse Injuries of the Elbow
There are various overuse injuries of the elbow that are more common than others. These injuries are similar in some ways but have different causes and different potential treatments.
Tennis Elbow (Lateral Epicondylitis)
The condition commonly known as tennis elbow is an inflammation of the tendons which connect the muscles of the forearm to the outer side of the elbow. Repeated swinging motions, like swinging a tennis racket, can weaken these muscles, which hold the wrist stable during these swinging motions.
The weaker the muscles become, the more vulnerable the tendon is. It is not only the swinging of a tennis racket that can cause this injury; anything that places stress on the wrist and forearm can cause it.
Golfer’s Elbow (Medial Epicondylitis)
Similar to tennis elbow, this is an overuse injury caused by repeated motion. However, golfer’s elbow is not caused by the swinging motion of the elbow, but any motion which causes you to flex or twist your wrist. This causes inflammation on the inside of the arm and elbow.
This encompasses a large number of overuse injuries of the elbow, all caused by overuse or stress on the elbow while pitching, batting, or catching. Baseball players can get golfer’s elbow or tennis elbow, along with various strains, sprains, and fractures.
Overuse Injuries of the Elbow Causes
Certain jobs or household activities can increase the risk of overuse injuries such as tennis elbow, due to these jobs requiring movements that place an extensive strain on the elbow. Some of these jobs include:
Auto mechanics, carpenters, and plumbers often need to carry heavy objects and work with their hands in enclosed spaces and thus have a tendency to develop tennis elbow.
Golfer’s elbow is caused by repeated twisting and flexing of the wrist and can be caused by a variety of activities, especially certain sports, such as:
- Tennis or squash
- Weight training
These activities place strain on the wrist. Other jobs which place stress on the wrist with repeated twisting and flexing, such as with a screwdriver, include:
- A construction worker or carpenter
- Computer focused jobs
Overuse Injuries of the Elbow Symptoms
Many conditions that fall into this category have similar symptoms, though their causes are different. Some of the symptoms common to all overuse injuries of the elbow include:
- Forearm pain. You may experience pain in your forearm spanning from the elbow to the wrist. Golfer’s elbow will cause pain on the inner side of the elbow, while tennis elbow will cause it on the outer side.
- Wrist pain. If you try to flex your wrist with your palm facing downward and experience pain, this could be due to an overuse injury of the elbow.
- Pain when shaking hands. Gripping someone else’s hand could cause pain in your wrist or forearm if your elbow is injured.
- Weak grip. Your grip may not be as strong as it was before.
- Numbness. You may not be able to feel parts of your elbow or wrist.
Overuse Injuries of the Elbow Diagnosis
A physical exam will likely be necessary to diagnose an overuse injury of the elbow. You will be asked to move your hand, wrist, and fingers into certain positions, and your doctor will touch parts of your arm to see if certain places are more painful than others.
If these results are inconclusive or unclear, your doctor may decide to take an X-ray of your elbow, which will reveal any inflammation in the tissue or damage to the bones.
Overuse Injuries in the Elbow Treatment
There are several steps you can take if you believe you may have injured your elbow. You can:
- Apply ice on any part of your forearm, wrist, or elbow which feels tender, inflamed, or sore. Ice should be used every three to four hours for fifteen to twenty minutes at a time.
- Take a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicine like ibuprofen
Most overuse injuries of the elbow will heal on their own with basic remedies like these. However, if the symptoms do not go away in 6 to 12 months, your doctor may recommend physical therapy or surgery, depending on the causes and severity of your injury.
Overuse Injuries in the Elbow Prevention
There are also steps you can take to prevent overuse injuries of the elbow from ever occurring, such as:
- Making changes to your form or technique when engaging in any activity that puts a strain on the bones or muscles of the arm, such as playing sports or exercising.
- Adjust your use of sport’s equipment so not as much strain is placed on your elbow
- Play your sport less often
- Adjust the positioning of your computer desk to place less strain on the wrist and elbow
- Use a special brace for golfer’s elbow or tennis elbow.
At SPORT, we will identify the source of your pain and then utilize state-of-the-art therapeutic techniques that focus on restoring your range of motion.
Depending on the specific condition and its severity, these treatment options may include physical therapy, over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication, slings and supports, cortisone shots, or shoulder or elbow surgery.
If you have an acute or chronic shoulder or elbow injury that needs medical attention, call SPORT at (469) 200-2832 to arrange a consultation or you can request one online. Hurt today? We can arrange a same-day urgent care visit to ensure you get fast, effective relief.