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Elbow Pain & Injury Advice: Causes, Diagnosis & Treatments

Yeeeouch! Why’d that hurt so bad?

The funny bone is neither funny nor a bone. It’s actually a nerve! The ulnar nerve runs from your neck, down your arm, and into your hand. For most of that length, the nerve is hidden safely away behind bones and muscles. However, at the elbow, that protection is just a layer of skin and fat. When you bump it, you’re pinching it between that fat layer and the bone underneath and that’s why it hurts like a…well, you know.

Obviously, not all elbow pain is funny bone pain. Sometimes the pain you feel in your elbows and arms is a bigger problem than simple clumsiness or an accident. Sometimes the pain in your elbow will be the result of wear and tear, or simple aging (darn that declining bone density). For some, elbow pain is the result of an injury like dislocation, tendon tears, etc.

Common elbow injuries

The most common elbow injuries are a result of tendonitis, arthritis, or a tear to the UCL.

Tendonitis is also called tennis elbow or golfer’s elbow but it can happen even if you don’t have an athletic cell in your body. Tendonitis is a condition that results from gripping things too much or too often, particularly if that grip depends on the thumb and the first two fingers. Some crafters have developed it. Artists are also prone to the condition. Over time, a tight grip puts a strain on the tendons that connect your elbow to your lower arms and, eventually, causes pain.

Arthritis is an incredibly common condition, especially among the elderly. There are many different types of arthritis that can affect the elbow, but osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis are the most likely culprits of elbow pain.

UCL refers to the Ulnar Collateral Ligament. Remember the funny bone? This is the ligament that runs along the same basic route between your upper and lower arm. UCL tears aren’t common.

They are the result of a person repeatedly throwing things as hard as they can. Think baseball pitchers and football quarterbacks. Over time, the UCL ligament starts to tear instead of stretching and healing. Injuries are usually the result of one particularly hard throw, which is why they’re common in pitchers but not non-athletes.

Will I ever throw again?

Obviously, this is going to depend as much on you as well as the severity of your injury and the course of treatment you choose. Most of the time, though, the answer is yes!

It’s possible to regain motion and strength in your arm after dealing with an elbow injury. If the injury is mild, it will likely repair itself. For more severe injuries, like the UCL tear, recovery can take a few months but it is possible. Sorry, no bionic arm for you (yet).

I think I’m hurt. What do I do?

It is important to learn when elbow pain is minor and when it is something that needs attention. A UCL tear will likely be obvious, but with conditions like arthritis and tendonitis, you must be more mindful.

For example, the pain you feel when your funny bone is “activated” is intense but fades relatively quickly. Tendonitis pain and arthritis pain usually starts with small twinges or your elbow might “lock up.” Most importantly, the pain will be recurring. You might even start to feel it when you’re not being very active.

If you notice that you have pain in your elbow (or anywhere in your arm, really) that doesn’t seem to go away or that is getting in the way of your ability to function, you need to make an appointment with your doctor. It might be nothing, but it could be a harbinger of a severer problem. Getting checked out early could prevent your further injuring yourself.

What happens tt the doctor’s office?

If the pain is severe and/or you’re having problems with movement, running a fever, or your elbow/arm is turning funny colors, go directly to the emergency room. Remember: severe and radiating arm pain isn’t just a sign of something wonky in your elbow!

For pain that just sort of bugs you, make an appointment with your primary care physician and go in for a checkup. Depending on the severity of your symptoms and their initial exam, your doctor will likely order some X-Rays and maybe an ultrasound or an MRI to determine the extent of the injury.

Even if your injury is mild, your doctor will likely tell you to rest your elbow for a few days. They might put your arm in a sling or, if the injury is further along, put you in a cast to keep the area still while you explore other treatment options.

Do I need surgery?

This is up to you and your doctor. For mild injuries, a little rest might be all that you need. For severe injuries—particularly among those whose lives depend on their needing to be physically active—surgery will likely be recommended.

It’s normal to feel scared and even a little bit nervous when your doctor first suggests surgery. Every surgery carries some risk and the recovery time is long and susceptible to any number of complications and post-op challenges.

You need to know, though, that just because your current doctor thinks surgery is best, doesn’t mean you must submit to the procedure. It’s a good idea to get a second opinion and to explore alternative treatments before committing to surgery.

What are the alternative treatments?

Medicine has come a long way and now there are non-invasive procedures available to people who are suffering from elbow injuries and other joint and muscle related issues. One of the most promising is stem cell treatment.

Stem cell research is no longer the dark and scary subject it once was. Today doctors are making incredible strides using adult stem cells (always your own) to help your body repair itself.

One of the most common reasons for choosing stem cell therapy to treat elbow injuries is that the procedure is non-invasive. Doctors use simple blood draws and injections to harvest the patient’s stem cells and then to apply them to an injured area.

Often, the entire procedure can be done in less than one day. Recovery time after the procedure is minimal and relatively painless—a fraction of what you’d deal with after having surgery.

Frequently Asked Questions

What causes pain in the elbow?

Elbows are sensitive, so pain can come from a variety of stimuli—bumping the elbow, falling on your arm, wear and tear on the muscles and tendons in your arms, aging, etc.

Why do my elbow joints hurt?

What kind of activities have you been doing lately? Have you been particularly active? Have you been doing a lot of lifting or throwing?

What’s the best way to treat elbow pain?

This is up to you and your doctor and will depend upon the severity of the issue causing the pain.

Can a shoulder injury cause elbow pain?

Yes! Nerves are what carry pain signals through the body. An injury to a person’s shoulder could affect the upper arm muscles and the ulnar nerves and ligaments, causing pain in the elbow as well.

What causes tennis elbow?

Tennis elbow is caused by an inflammation of your tendons, also known as tendonitis.

What causes golfers elbow?

Golfer’s elbow is caused by damage to the muscles and tendons, often caused by overuse.

Do compression sleeves help elbow pain?

Compression sleeves can help ease elbow pain, but if the pain persists, you will still want to see your doctor.

Should I see a doctor for elbow pain?

If your pain lasts a long time, is severe, or keeps coming back, yes. If you hit your funny bone, probably not.

To learn more about how our minimally invasive, regenerative cell treatment can reduce your pain, encourage your knee to repair itself naturally, and get you back to living life the way you want, download a copy of our free guide here.

If you think stem cell therapy might be right for you, book a consultation with PreciseCare today!

    (If you aren't located in the Orange County, we're more than happy to do the initial evaluation over the phone for your convenience.)

Or call 949-387-9991 to request additional information.

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About Dr. Gaurav Goswami, MD

Dr. Goswami - Stem Cell Therapy Specialist

Dr. Goswami specializes in Regenerative and Restorative Sports Medicine, providing advanced minimally invasive (non-surgical) treatments to athletes of all levels and ages. Tissue preservation, quick recovery, and little to no downtime are the cornerstones of his philosophy.

As a member of the American College of Sports Medicine, Dr. Goswami is focused on utilizing his years of experience to help his patients and athletes reach their maximum potential. Continually motivated by finding better ways to care for his patients, Dr. Goswami regularly holds public lectures and workshops to educate and help patients maintain an active lifestyle.