What is the Most Common Cause of Elbow Pain?

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  • Written By: Patti Kate
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Images By: Galina Barskaya, Sentello, James Lee, Lisa F. Young, Alila, Gino Santa Maria
  • Last Modified Date: 02 November 2018
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The most common cause of elbow pain is injury, such as repetitive motion strain. Injuries to surrounding joints, ligaments, and tendons may lead to chronic conditions of elbow tendinitis or bursitis. Other common causes may include arthritis or acute injuries such as trauma or broken bones.

Tennis elbow or golfer's elbow are blanket terms for medical conditions afflicting individuals who participate in sports that require constant use of the elbow joints and arm. This condition is not limited to golfers and tennis players, however. Any individual who works in a job that requires constant repetitive motion of the joints of the elbow may develop such a condition.

With tennis elbow or golfer's elbow, chronic inflammation and swelling are typically present. Flare-ups may be seldom or frequent, depending to the extent of the injury. When a person complains of pain, tenderness, and immobility of the elbow, a physician will generally take an x-ray of the arm to check for fractures.

In order to get a closer look at muscles and tendons, however, a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may be recommended. An MRI will determine the extent of damage to the tissues and tendons, or whether a significant tear is present. This may also determine the course of treatment, such as physical therapy, medications, or surgery.


Another common cause of elbow pain, especially in children, is a sports injury that results in a fracture. Contact sports like football or playground falls can cause these injuries. The first sign of a broken elbow is typically severe elbow pain and inability to move the arm freely. Swelling is also common. Depending upon the severity of the injury, treatment may range from a simple splint, a hard cast, insertion of metal pins, or surgery.

Pain on the inside of the elbow may be caused by over exertion due to exercise. Individuals who do arm exercises, such as bench presses, may be prone to painful injuries. Those who do not properly stretch or warm up prior to such exercises may be vulnerable to sore muscles or pulled tendons. This may cause elbow pain. In some cases, tendinitis or bursitis may develop as a result.

Arthritis is another leading cause of elbow pain, particularly for the elderly. Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) may produce symptoms that include inability to move the elbow joint freely. The cause of elbow pain in patients with RA is generally due to the deterioration of joints caused by the disease.

In diagnosing the cause of elbow pain, a physician may take a history of the patient's health. A complete physical examination may help to determine the exact cause of elbow pain, especially if other symptoms are present. Other causes of pain in the elbow are rheumatic fever, nerve damage, and certain types of bone cancer.



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