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What are the Common Causes of Arm and Elbow Pain?

Article Details
  • Written By: Sandra Koehler
  • Edited By: C. Wilborn
  • Last Modified Date: 10 October 2018
  • Copyright Protected:
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    Conjecture Corporation
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Arm and elbow pain can occur for a number of reasons, ranging from arthritis or damage to the joints, to trauma, injuries, and overuse. The most common cause of arm and elbow pain is tendinitis. Tendinitis of the elbow is inflammation or injury of the tendons which attach the muscles in the area to the bones.

Tendinitis in the elbow, commonly referred to as tennis elbow or golfers elbow depending on the location of pain, can occur from overuse or repetitive use. The elbow tendons become inflamed or swollen and painful. This discomfort can radiate up the arm towards the shoulder or down the arm towards the wrist and hand.

Tennis elbow, a frequent source of arm and elbow pain, is caused by repeated forceful contractions of the wrist or forearm, or by repetitive motions customarily seen in tennis. This stress causes inflammation of the tendons around the lateral epicondyle or the bone on the outside of the elbow. Golfer’s elbow, on the other hand, is a common term for inflammation of the tendons around the medical epicondyle, or bone on the inside of the elbow. This is caused by straining and twisting of the forearm typically seen during a golf swing.

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Other common causes of arm and elbow pain include bursitis, or inflammation of the bursa or fluid-filled sac around the elbow, and sprains. Bursitis can be caused by repetitive use and arthritis. A sprain differs from tendinitis in that it is inflammation of the ligaments, the fibrous tissue connecting bone to bone, due to an injury.

Arm and elbow pain from repetitive motions or overuse can be treated with rest and the application of ice to the area every three to four hours for 48 to 72 hours after injury or symptoms occur. The use of compression, such as an elbow wrap, may help stabilize and immobilize the area to decrease further irritation. Wrapping should be used only initially to allow for complete rest of the affected joint. Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen can help ease discomfort and decrease swelling.

Normal activities involving heavy usage of the forearm and elbow should be avoided for a few weeks after an acute attack of arm and elbow pain. It is important to reintroduce the movements which caused initial pain slowly. Strengthening of the elbow area is recommended to avoid further injury and inflammation to the area upon resuming normal activities.

If arm and elbow pain begins after a direct injury to the area or if the elbow cannot be moved or if deformity is visible, a person should contact his or her primary physician. Elbow inflammation that is accompanied by a fever should be evaluated by a doctor. If pain persists, a physical therapist may be able to assist a person in returning to normal activity.

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