Elbow Injuries and Conditions

Elbow Injuries and Conditions

Your elbow is one of the body’s hardest working joint. Because it is so active, you can easily injure it.

Elbow anatomy

The elbow joint is made of three bones: the two forearm bones (the radius and ulna) meet your upper arm (the humerus) to create the elbow joint. Muscles, tendons, and nerves allow you to flex your arm and rotate your hand into palm up and down positions.  The majority of muscles that move your hand are anchored at your elbow. This is why your hand can be painful when you injure your elbow. The tip of your elbow is protected by a pad called the bursa. The bursa acts as a cushion under the wrinkled skin at the tip of the elbow.

Elbow conditions

  • Ulnar Nerve entrapment or Cubital Tunnel Syndrome. When you bang your elbow, we call that the “funny bone”. But it is not a bone, rather it is a nerve (the ulnar nerve) that passes around the elbow. When that nerve is pinched the symptoms are burning, achy pain on the inside of the elbow, and tingling and numbness down the arm to your pinky finger. Surgery to release the pinched nerve is the most common way to treat this condition.
  • Tennis or golfer’s elbow. Tennis elbow is due to an injured elbow tendon on the outer elbow called Lateral Epicondylitis. It results from a gradual tearing of the tendon which allows you to extend your wrist. There will be pain when gripping or lifting objects. When the median elbow tendon is injured it is called Golfer’s elbow. In both cases, the cause is overuse. Surgery to remove injured tissues can restore function.
  • Loose bodies of the elbow. This is when a bony fragment breaks off of one of the elbow bones. It can be very painful and restrict your range of motion when the fragment is caught in the hinge of the joint. Symptoms include popping, catching, and locking of the joint. Minimally invasive arthroscopic surgery can remove the loose body and restore arm movement and range of motion.
  • Bone spurs and arthritis. Bone spurs are caused by either osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis. In Osteoarthritis, the ends of the bone end up rubbing against each other due to the wearing away of the cartilage that occurs over time. Rheumatoid arthritis affects the joint lining and destroy the cartilage and surrounding bone. Both forms cause inflammation in the joint. Bone spurs are very painful and limit your range of motion. Arthroscopic surgery can remove spurs, eliminate pain and improve range of motion. Treatment for elbow arthritis and bone spurs depends on the stage of the disease and your age, and activity requirements. Arthroscopy, open surgical removal, and joint replacement are options to treat arthritic elbows.
  • Biceps Tendon rupture. The biceps muscle in the upper arm crosses over the elbow. It allows you to flex or bend the elbow and to turn or rotate your forearm palm up. Surgical repair to reattach the biceps tendon can restore function. When the tendon is degenerated, a graft may be needed.
  • Radial Head Fractures. This fracture occurs when falling on an outstretched arm. Pain when trying to rotate the forearm to turn the palm up or down is the cardinal sign. The elbow will be stiff and swollen. If the bones are aligned, the fracture can be treated with early elbow motions, not a cast or sling. The fracture will take 6 weeks to heal. If you do not receive therapy to restore motion, there is a risk of permanent loss of function. If the pieces are not in alignment, surgery will be needed.