When the elbow hurts

When the elbow hurts

Elbow pain can be a real burden. The use of which is unavoidable in everyday activities is mainly because a joint is affected. Because we need the elbow joint for every arm movement. Some elbow pain is short-lived, while others develop into chronic pain. It is, therefore, essential to assess the pain correctly and, if necessary, to consult a doctor.

Elbow pain – when should you see a doctor?

Pain is always an alarm signal from the body that something is wrong. Whether you need to see a doctor immediately depends on the intensity and duration of the symptoms. In principle, sudden, severe pain is more of an alarm signal than long-lasting, weaker ones.

Signs of illness visible from the outside, such as reddening or swelling, also indicate a disease that needs to be treated more clearly.


Red, warm, thick and painful

A painful redness, swelling and overheating on the elbow can primarily indicate bursitis. The liquid-filled sacs (bursa) serve to absorb shock and friction. They cannot actually be touched or felt unless they are abnormally swollen. Then they can hurt, too.

First aid for bursitis

The first measures to be taken when an inflamed bursa is suspected are cooling and rest.  Painkillers can also be taken. It would help if you used preparations that also have an anti-inflammatory effect.

The family doctor must be consulted, mainly if the redness spreads. Immobilization in an upper arm splint or the prescription of an antibiotic may be necessary. If bursitis occurs more frequently, surgical removal may even be indicated.


Red and warm – a rash on the elbow

Another cause of elbow redness and warmth can be a rash. Classic changes in the skin manifest a rash:

  • redness
  • pustules
  • itch
  • wheels

There are endless causes of skin rash.

Common reasons for rashes are contact allergies, such as grass or detergent. It is often sufficient to avoid the allergy trigger. If that doesn’t help, consult your family doctor or a dermatologist.

Dry elbows

However, such a rash on the elbow should not be confused with psoriasis, which typically occurs on the outside and the front of the knee. It is manifested by dry skin and dandruff. This non-contagious disease is genetic and inheritable.

There is no chance of a cure, but there are many symptom-relieving procedures, such as ointments, changes in diet and light therapy.

Elbow pain, electrifying

Pain such as pinpricks or “electric shocks” are typical nerve pain signs. There are two major nerves in the elbow:

  1. the ulnar nerve (ulnar nerve), which runs towards the outside of the hand 
  2. the radial nerve (radial nerve), which ends on the thumb side of the hand

Causes of nerve pain can be, for example, a pinched nerve or a nerve entrapment syndrome.


The Musician’s Bone – Pain like pinpricks

A pinched nerve is present in the classic phenomenon of the funny bone. But what exactly is the funny bone?

This refers to the ulnar nerve, which arises from the cervical spinal cord and runs over the upper arm to the elbow joint and then to the forearm and hand. It lies on the elbow in its “spoke channel” (sulcus ulnaris), which is supposed to be protected by the bony channel. However, it is often crushed when the elbow is bumped, sending electrifying pain signals to the brain, hand and sometimes shoulder. If the initial pain subsides, a tingling feeling can last longer.

Sometimes, even the hand or individual fingers are numb or gripping is restricted. However, all of these complaints should subside after a short time. If they last longer, see a neurologist or orthopedist.

Chronic elbow pain

If electrifying pain in the hand occurs continuously without a bruise, a so-called bottleneck syndrome may be present. The ulnar nerve is most frequently affected by the “ulnar nerve syndrome” (sulcus ulnaris).

As the name of the syndrome already suggests, the nerve is narrowed in its course and thus irritated and squeezed. Tingling, numbness or loss of strength can also be signs of bottleneck syndrome.

The syndrome is caused by long-term stress, such as leaning on a tabletop daily when doing office work. Physical work can also lead to bottleneck syndrome due to thickening of the muscles.

What to do with bottleneck syndrome?

First and foremost, conservative therapy is advisable in the case of bottleneck syndrome. Rest, cooling, and, if necessary, immobilization in a splint or bandage are often sufficient.  Surgery to expose the ulnar nerve should only be considered if the symptoms persist.


Osteoarthritis in the elbow joint

Another common cause of never-ending pain in the elbow joint is joint wear and tear (osteoarthritis). Like any other joint, the elbow is not immune to cartilage abrasion. Pain when moving is typical. But the pain can also peak at night.

Anyone who has put a lot of strain on the elbow throughout their life, for example, through physical work or certain sports, has an increased risk of osteoarthritis. The cartilage degradation can no longer be reversed; secondary prevention in the sense of joint-friendly activities and strengthening of the muscles surrounding the joint can delay the course.

Elbow pain after exercise

The elbow joint is heavily stressed in many ball sports or even during strength training.  Pain when bending and stretching can indicate overload. The muscles surrounding the elbow joint may be under too much strain, or the bony and cartilaginous joint itself.  Tendonitis can also be the cause.

The first treatment measures should consist of resting and cooling the elbow. Painkillers can be taken if the symptoms are severe. If symptoms persist, consult a doctor.

Tendonitis in the elbow

Tendonitis usually affects the forearm extensors, which we use to spread our fingers and stretch our wrists. Then, one speaks of the so-called tennis elbow or tennis elbow (epicondylitis humeri radialis).

The forearm extensors attach with their tendons to the thumb (radial) elbow. Therefore, one feels pain in the elbow when gripping.  The symptoms can also become chronic.

In addition to playing tennis, causes are non-sporting, repetitive or unfamiliar activities, for example, daily office work on the keyboard or with the mouse.


What to do with tennis elbow?

The treatment of tendonitis consists of resting the elbow and, if necessary, temporary immobilization in an upper arm splint and taking anti-inflammatory painkillers. If the pain-triggering movement is avoided for a while, the symptoms should improve.

A bandage can help with permanent symptoms. In extreme cases, surgery may be advisable.

Elbow pain after a fall

When you fall, you often catch yourself with your hands or fall on your knees and elbows. The discolouration of the joint leads to a contusion of the soft tissue, i.e., the muscles and the fatty tissue.

The underlying structures, such as nerves, lymph channels and vessels, can also be affected—a bruise ( hematoma ) often forms. In addition, the increase in the volume of the tissue causes pain.

However, a fall on your elbow can also break a bone. Sometimes, the cracking can even be heard, and the breakage from a misalignment can already be suspected outside.

What to do about elbow pain after a fall?

A surgeon must be consulted if the pain persists or the bruise becomes more extensive, especially if a bone fracture is suspected. In addition to the clinical examination, he can take X-rays of the bones.

Rest, cooling and painkillers are the therapy of choice for a superficial hematoma. In the case of a broken bone, the arm must either be immobilized in an upper arm cast or even operated on.

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