The elbow is a joint in the body located in the arms. It’s mainly used to move the hands and arms, particularly lifting objects. If the elbow is damaged or injured, it may cause severe pain, swelling, and inability to move the hands and fingers.
The elbow joint is a complex hinge joint developed between the proximal ends of the ulna and radius of the forearm and the distal end of the humerus in the upper arm. It allows movements like extension and flexion of the forearm muscles, and it can allow the person to rotate the wrist and forearm.
Anatomy and functions of the elbow
The elbow is a relatively simple hinge joint which allows extension and flexion.
There are three joints in the elbow, the hinge joint between the humerus and the ulna, the humeroradial joint between the humerus and radius ad the pivot joint formed by the ulna and radius called the proximal radioulnar joint.
The humerus forms the upper part of the joint and widens near the end to form the medial and lateral epicondyles which are the two bony processes felt either side of the elbow joint.
Just like any joint in the body, the elbow may suffer various injuries.
These injuries and condition may stem from overhand throwing, occupations like painting, raking, plumbing, and carpentry and racket sports. There are two main types of injuries on an elbow – overuse injury and acute injury.
Overuse injury means that the person suffers from elbow problems because of prolonged use of the elbow and forearm in repetitive movements. These movements may put high stresses on the elbow and the surrounding structures.
Acute injury, on the other hand, results from a collision, a fall or a bump. This results in acute pain and swelling. In some cases, the elbow may even suffer from fractures or dislocation.
Most common elbow injuries
Tennis elbow – One of the most common conditions that can affect the elbow is lateral epicondylitis or tennis elbow. Tennis elbow is a very painful condition that happens when the tendons in the elbow become inflamed and overloaded, due to strenuous overuse and repetitive movements.
Golfer’s elbow – One of the conditions that can affect the elbow is a golfer’s elbow.
This condition is usually caused by the overuse of the muscles in the forearm that allow you to rotate the arm, flex the wrist and grip. Tennis players and other people can also develop a golfer’s elbow when they perform repeated activities like using the wrist and clenching the fingers.
Flexor Tendinitis – Flexor tendinitis is caused by the irritation and inflammation of the flexor or pronator tendons as a result of repetitive throwing. Most commonly, athletes are the ones affected by this condition. In severe cases, the pain will still persist even during rest.
Acute injury – Sudden or acute injury is caused by a penetrating injury, a direct blow to the elbow, fall, or by jamming, twisting or bending the elbow in an abnormal manner.
The most common symptoms of acute injury include severe pain and swelling. The common acute injuries include bruises, contusion, ligament and tendon injuries, fractures, strains, and sprains.
Overuse injuries – Overuse injuries occur when there is too much stress placed on the elbow joint. This can be done through repetitive activities. The most common injuries include bursitis or swelling of the elbow, tendinosis, pinched nerves and tendonitis.
Ulnar neuritis – If the elbow is bent, the ulnar nerve stretches into the bony bump at the humerus end. For athletes who perform repetitive throwing, the ulnar nerve is frequently stretched, which increases the risk of the nerve slipping out of place. This can cause nerve irritation and inflammation.
Elbow tendonitis – Elbow tendonitis like tennis elbow or golfer’s elbow happens when a tendon inflames and becomes painful after an injury. This is self-limiting, and you can treat it yourself for about 2 to 3 weeks, but the pain can be managed by the doctor if it’s too painful already.
Ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) injury- The ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) injury happens when the said ligament becomes inflamed and injured. This can stem from the repetitive movements that place extra stress on the joint. An acute rupture of the ligament may also lead to this painful condition. The most common victims are pitchers in baseball and softball.
Bursitis – Bursitis is a condition wherein there is an acute injury to the elbow’s outside part. This can be caused by a sudden hard blow to the area. When the bursae, which protects the joints, becomes inflamed, it can cause joint stiffness and pain.
Commonly, most of these injuries can be managed at home. For more severe cases, the patient needs to see a doctor for treatment. Painkillers and rest are the most common treatment options for elbow injuries.