What are the Common Causes of Wrist and Elbow Pain?

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  • Written By: T. Carrier
  • Edited By: John Allen
  • Last Modified Date: 23 January 2020
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Wrist and elbow pain often occur together. Many muscles, bones, and nerves comprise the arm. Pain typically results from damage to one or more of these areas. Common painful conditions include cumulative trauma syndrome, tennis elbow, bursitis, cervical radiculopathy, thoracic outlet syndrome, carpal tunnel syndrome, and rheumatoid arthritis.

Muscle damage may occur due to a strain or tear from overuse, wrist injury, elbow injury, or any type of atypical movement. Muscles responsible for wrist movement begin around the elbow, so any pain that impacts one area will likely impact the other as well. Pain can come in various forms, including aches, burning, soreness, and stiffness. If left untreated, the condition may become chronic and develop into cumulative trauma syndrome.

Ligaments and tendons that hold the bones and muscles of the wrist and elbow together could also be injured in a similar manner, thereby causing wrist and elbow pain. Perhaps the most common type of tendinitis in the arm area is lateral epicondylitis, or tennis elbow. This condition typically derives from overuse and subsequent inflammation of the muscles and tendons that bend the wrist back, such as frequent computer work. Tightness and pain along the stretched elbow is indicative of tennis elbow. The cushion-like fluid sacs between muscles and tendons may also become inflamed in a condition called bursitis, resulting in wrist and elbow pain compounded by movement.


Nerve compression is another common cause of wrist and elbow pain. Nerves within the arm travel into the neck and chest and down the spinal cord. At the openings where nerves enter the neck and chest, the nerves may become trapped. When undue pressure is placed upon the nerves, pain can radiate anywhere down the arm. These conditions are known as cervical radiculopathy and thoracic outlet syndrome.

Carpal tunnel syndrome constitutes another commonplace nerve condition. The eight bones of the wrist form a tunnel, and when the median nerve travels through this tunnel, it may become trapped. While the largest amount of numbness and pain can be found in the thumb and first two fingers, discomfort may also extend to the elbow. Abnormal sleeping positions can frequently cause this disorder.

A more serious condition called rheumatoid arthritis may impact the bones and joints of the arm. This disease derives from a malfunction of the immune system in which body tissues are wrongly identified as invasive substances. The immune system then responds by attacking the tissues. Rheumatoid arthritis is a progressive disease that begins around small bones like wrist bones and subsequently moves to larger bones like elbow bones. Thus, the disease may eventually affect the whole body and produce symptoms such as the following: joint swelling and tenderness, fatigue, fever, and discolored hands.

Home remedies for wrist and elbow pain include ice packs applied to the affected area and massage. Prevention is one of the most important measures to treat conditions causing wrist and elbow pain. Proper warm up exercises and maintenance of a comfortable arm position during work or rest are particularly vital. If wrist and elbow pain persists, a doctor or physical therapist may present the best course of action.



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