Pain in your elbow could be caused by one of three things:
- Scarring or damage to the soft tissues over the bone at the tip of your elbow (the olecranon). Many people lean on this which can eventually cause swelling and pain.
- Tennis elbow (lateral epicondylitis). Pain occurs when the muscles and tendons on the outside of the elbow are damaged due to over-use. Some of these muscle anchor into your elbow just to the side and above the point of the elbow, which could be causing some of your pain. According to the NHS, tennis elbow usually takes 6 months to 2 years to clear, although most people make a recovery within a year.
- Golfer’s elbow (medial epicondylitis) could also be the cause of your pain. It is very similar to tennis elbow but affects the muscles and tendons on the inside of the elbow rather than the outside.
In both cases physiotherapy and possibly injection therapy may be helpful.
The causes of tennis elbow
Tennis elbow usually occurs when the muscles and tendons around your elbow are strained and damaged. This causes inflammation and pain.
The most common cause of tennis elbow is over-use, but it can also occur if your elbow takes a knock or you do a lot of exercise you’re not used to (particularly if it involves using your forearms or twisting your wrist).
As the name suggests, racquet sports are one such activity that can cause tennis elbow, especially if you haven’t played for a while. Other activities that can cause problems include: painting and decorating, manual labour, using shears in the garden and typing.
The symptoms of tennis elbow
The most common symptom of tennis elbow is a pain – which can be mild or very sharp – in your arm just below your elbow. This can also spread down your arm.
Twisting the arm or gripping small objects can also cause pain, and you might experience difficulties in fully extending your arm.
Tennis elbow treatment
Tennis elbow usually gets better on its own, but make sure you rest your arm.
You can ease your symptoms by holding something cold – such as frozen peas in a tea towel – against your elbow. Taking paracetamol or ibuprofen can also help to manage the pain and reduce inflammation.
If you still have symptoms after a few days of rest, you should see your GP.
In more severe cases, physiotherapy may help as massaging and moving the elbow can reduce pain and help you get some movement back.
Surgery to remove the damage in the tendon can also be an option in really serious cases.
Answered by the Health at Hand nurses
Arm or elbow pain
General self-help tips for pain