The elbow is a hinge joint between the upper arm bone called humerus and the lower arm bones, radius and ulna. Just like in the hand and wrist, elbow is made up of nerves, bones, blood vessels, muscles, tendons, ligaments, and skin. Muscles are responsible for elbow movement along with tendons, which anchor muscles to the bones. The biceps muscle in the upper arm is responsible for rotating the forearm and bending the elbow. The elbow joint is stabilized by ligaments. Nerves control sensation and muscle function, while blood vessels carry nutrients and oxygen to all the important structures.
Everyone experiences elbow pain at some point in their life. Elbow pain can be due to injury, infection, tumor, underlying medical condition, or the natural process of aging. In some cases, elbow pain is a symptom of a serious condition that requires immediate medical attention, such as an elbow fracture or infection.
Elbows can exhibit a wide variety of symptoms such as throbbing, aching, soreness, stiffness, and increased warmth or cold. Elbow pain can be dull, sharp, tingling, burning, continuous, or intermittent. Elbow pain in form of burning or “pins and needles” sensation (paresthesia) is caused by temporary or permanent nerve damage.
Numerous medical conditions can cause elbow pain. Tingling and elbow pain, which radiate down the arm, may be signs of a pinched nerve in the neck or heart attack. Arthritis causes elbow pain and stiffness of the elbow joint, while infection results in elbow pain associated with redness and swelling at the site of infection. Repetitive strain on the elbow can cause inflammation of the tendons as seen in tennis elbow. Bursitis may be caused by elbow trauma, prolonged pressure on the elbow, infection, or medical conditions such as gout and rheumatoid arthritis. Tendon pain is a symptom of tendinosis caused by small tears in the tissue around the tendon or tendonitis, which is the result of inflammation, irritation and tendon swelling. Often, with elbow pain you may feel decreased strength and range of motion of the elbow joint.
It is important to keep in mind, that complications associated with elbow pain can be very serious and can result in chronic disability, inability to perform daily tasks, arm deformity, and even spread of infection to the rest of the body causing sepsis. If you are experiencing persistent pain or other symptoms in your elbow, please contact your health care provider.