The elbow is complex. It consists of three bones, the joints between them, the ligaments that keep it stable, and the muscles that generate strength and motion.
Your elbows take a lot of stress from regular movements like lifting or carrying a bag, as well as more complex motions like throwing a baseball. Muscles surrounding the elbow also help move your wrist.
Elbow problems can be caused by overuse, traumatic injury, and/or naturally occurring changes in your body.
Suffering from elbow pain? Contact us to learn about treatment options.
How Your Elbow Works
The elbow consists of three bones: the upper arm bone (humerus) and two forearm bones – the ulna and the radius. The ulna runs on the bottom of your forearm from the wrist to the elbow, and is used to rest your arms. Its U shape holds the bottom of the upper arm bone (humerus). The radius rotates around the ulna. The radius and ulna are responsible for turning the palm of your hand up and down.
Two ligaments in the elbow help provide stability but are commonly injured in sports or via trauma. The radial collateral ligament stabilizes the outside of the elbow while the ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) provides stability to the inside of the elbow. The UCL is more commonly injured; it can be stretched by throwing or racket-type sports.
Four main muscle groups surround the elbow joint and help power the elbow and wrist. The biceps muscles on the front of the humerus bend the elbow. On the backside of the humerus, the triceps muscles straighten the elbow. Wrist flexor tendons attach on the outside of the elbow, while wrist extensors attach to the inside. These muscles help the hand turn palm-up and palm-down, and bend and straighten the elbow.
Two main nerves, the ulnar and radial nerves, can cause pain in the elbow and numbness/weakness in the hand. The ulnar nerve travels behind the inside of your elbow and is responsible for the zinging pain down into your hand when you hit your funny bone. This nerve provides feeling for your little finger and half of your ring finger on the palm side of the hand.
The radial nerve travels through the muscle of your forearm and provides some sensation to the back of your hand, but primarily powers the muscles in the forearm and hand.
Evaluating Elbow Pain
Elbow-pain evaluation starts with you giving us a history of your problem: when and how it started, how it feels, and treatments you’ve tried. We also ask about other conditions that may contribute to your elbow pain. We do a physical exam to test your elbow’s structures and check its range of motion and strength, and do tests to uncover specific problems.
Sometimes we order X-rays, to show us things like fractures, spurs, and changes from arthritis. We also may order MRIs, to show us more bone detail, or ligament or tendon tears.
Whatever caused your elbow pain, we’re dedicated to helping you find the best treatment. Request an appointment today.
Causes of Elbow Pain
- Less common causes – infection, tumors, or nerve problems
Treating Elbow Pain
Elbow-pain treatment is very specific to your diagnosis and the severity of your symptoms.
Lifestyle modifications include resting your elbow, changing daily activities to avoid painful situations, altering how you carry objects, and doing exercises to strengthen weak muscles.
Physical therapy focuses on getting your muscles and joints to work together properly to move your arm. Even strong and active people can have pain caused by muscle imbalances. Physical therapists can identify and address imbalances through corrective exercises.
Physical therapy can be done on an outpatient basis or via telehealth. Either way, you’ll be given exercises to continue at home.