The elbow is a complex structure. 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, to more complex motions like throwing a baseball. The muscles that surround the elbow are also used for motion in the wrist. Elbow problems can be caused by overuse, traumatic injury, and/or changes that occur naturally 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 bones in the forearm – the ulna and the radius. The ulna bone runs on the bottom side of your forearm from the wrist to the elbow, and is used to rest your arms. It has a U shape that holds the bottom of the upper arm bone (humerus). The radius is the other bone in the forearm, and it rotates around the ulna. The radius and ulna are responsible for turning the palm of your hand up and down.
Two main ligaments in the elbow help provide stability. These ligaments are commonly injured in sports or during traumatic injuries. The radial collateral ligament provides stability to 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, as this ligament can be stretched with throwing or racket-type sports.
Surrounding the elbow joint are four main groups of muscles that help power the elbow and wrist. The biceps muscles are located on the front of the upper arm bone, and bend the elbow. On the backside of the upper arm bone are the triceps muscles, which straighten the elbow. Some wrist flexor tendons attach on the outside of the elbow, while wrist extensors attach to inside of the elbow. These muscles work together to allow the hand to turn palm up and palm down as well as bend and straighten the elbow.
Two main nerves, the ulnar nerve and radial nerve, can cause pain in the elbow and numbness/weakness in the hand. The ulnar nerve travels behind the inside of your elbow and is the nerve 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 palmar 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 is responsible for powering 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 currently feels, and which treatments you have tried so far. We also ask you about other medical conditions that may contribute to your elbow pain. We do a physical exam to test the structures of your elbow. We check your elbow’s range of motion and strength, and do special tests that can uncover specific problems.
Based on your physical exam, we may recommend a cortisone injection as a clinical test and pain treatment. The numbing medicine mixed in the injection helps us determine the pain source, while the cortisone can provide pain relief. Sometimes we order X-rays or MRIs to visualize your bones and soft tissues. X-rays can show us things like fractures, spurs, and changes from arthritis. MRIs can show us more detail of the bones, as well as soft-tissue damage like tears of the ligaments or the tendons.
Whatever the cause of your elbow pain, we are 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
Treatment of elbow pain is very specific to the diagnosis and severity of your symptoms.