I see numerous patients with elbow pain and other sports injuries at my office in Spanish Springs at the Northern Nevada Medical Group.
Pain in the elbow generally arises in a person’s 40s and 50s and results from overuse of the forearm muscles. It usually occurs during or after activity involving the elbow.
Patients with elbow pain often have symptoms with repetitive movement or occupational activity, and they often have a weakened grip. Pain can occur at several areas around the elbow with rotation of the forearm and wrist, or while flexing or extending the wrist.
The elbow acts as a hinge joint. Joined at that hinge are the humerus (the upper arm bone), the ulna (the inner forearm bone) and the radius (the outer forearm bone).
At the elbow the outer bone is called the lateral epicondyle. Tendons attached to this area can become injured and inflamed, a condition known as tennis elbow, a form of tendinitis. The medical name for this condition is lateral epicondylitis. The bony portion of the inner elbow is the medial epicondyle. Injury to the tendons attached there is called golfer’s elbow, or, in medical terms, medial epicondylitis.
The olecranon bursa, a fluid-filled sac, lies over the tip of the elbow. Pain in the elbow thus can have several causes, including inflammation of the tendons or bursa, fracture, sprain, arthritis or nerve irritation.
Repeated elbow and forearm activities that often lead to elbow pain include tennis, fencing, golf, rowing, baseball, hammering, typing, meat-cutting, plumbing and painting. Even smoking contributes to elbow pain: One study found that former and current smokers have a threefold increased risk for medial epicondylitis, or golfer’s elbow.
Most elbow pain will resolve with rest and by taking an anti-inflammatory pain reliever, such as ibuprofen. Patients with continuing pain can be treated with physical therapy, injection therapy or surgical debridement.
If the elbow has not responded to treatment after six weeks, other treatment options include physical therapy or a local injection. For a patient suffering from lateral or medial epicondylitis six to 12 months after initially seeking care, we might consider surgery or injection with other agents.
Surgery is rarely required for elbow overuse problems, but when needed most patients experience pain relief.
As a result, elbow pain can have multiple causes and different treatment options. The key is making the appropriate diagnosis and to design a treatment plan that delivers optimum relief.
To learn about the elbow and treatments for elbow pain, I will be offering a seminar from 6 to 7 p.m. Wednesday at Northern Nevada Medical Center. The presentation will be located at the Sparks Medical Building, 2385 E. Prater Way, Suite 203. Dinner will be provided. Call 356-6662 to RSVP.
I offer treatment for athletes of all ages as well as sports physicals for children in school. Call 352-5350 for an appointment.
Luis Palacio, MD, is a family medicine physician and the director of Sports Medicine at the Northern Nevada Medical Group, 5070 Ion Drive, Suite 200. He earned his medical degree from Universidad Central Del Este, San Pedro de Macoris, in the Dominican Republic. Board certified in both family medicine and sports medicine, he completed his family medicine residency at Saint Elizabeth Hospital in Chicago and his sports medicine fellowship at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia. Dr. Palacio is bilingual in English and Spanish.