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Learn more about the symptoms you are experiencing, then make an appointment with one of our doctors to discover the best plan of action to resolve your injury or pain.
Conditions you may be experiencing:
Elbow Fracture (Broken Bone near the Elbow)
Three bones come together, forming the elbow. The complex joint connects the upper arm bone (humerus) and the two bones of the forearm (ulna and radius), creating a flexible, hinge-like mechanism. Joined by muscles, tendons and ligaments, each of the bones is susceptible to fracture, which can occur anywhere on the arm. Near the elbow, for example, a distal humerus fracture impacts the upper arm bone, while other types of breaks affect the bony protrusions extending from the ulna.
Acute trauma is a common cause of broken bones near the elbow. A sports-related elbow fracture may occur as the result of a fall or a direct blow to the affected area. Indirect causes may also lead to elbow fracture, stemming from athletic injuries to other parts of the arm and wrist. Falling on an outstretched hand, for example, can cause bones to break near the elbow.
Several types of breaks occur close to the elbow, including these three typical elbow fractures.
- Olecranon fracture – The bony elbow “point” extending from the forearm’s ulna is susceptible to fracture. Olecranon breaks often result from a fall or direct blow to a bent elbow. Since the triceps muscle attaches to this bone, it may also be broken by a forceful contraction of the muscle.
- Radial head fracture – Commonly caused by falling on an outstretched hand, radial head fracture is a break to the radius, near the elbow. This type of fracture is thought to account for approximately 20% of elbow breaks, and may not be the only break resulting from a particular elbow injury.
- Fracture of the coronoid process – Another piece of bone extending from the ulna, the coronoid process may be fractured as a result of accidental trauma or sports injury. In many cases, coronoid process fracture is tied to elbow dislocation.
Fractures occurring near the elbow can cause the following symptoms:
- Sudden severe pain in elbow and forearm
- Occasional numbness in hand
- Elbow pain after a fall
- Difficultly straightening arm
Lateral Epicondylitis (Tennis Elbow)
The elbow joint brings together the upper arm bone (humerus) and the two bones of the forearm (radius and ulna). Tendons, ligaments and muscles connect and stabilize the elbow, enabling flexible, controlled movement in the versatile joint. Tennis elbow, or lateral epicondylitis, is a painful condition resulting from damage to the tendons responsible for connecting muscles on the outside of the elbow.
Lateral epicondylitis occurs when tendons anchoring forearm muscles to the outside of the elbow degenerate, tear, or sustain injury. As a result of repetitive movements, such as those common to racquet sports, small tears and inflammation can develop, leading to pain and elbow joint weakness.
Although tennis elbow is associated with athletics, participating in sports is not the only cause of the injury. Forearm muscles and tendons can also weaken due to overuse on the job, leading to work-related elbow pain. Laborers, tradespeople and others conducting repetitive physical tasks are prone to tennis elbow. Although it can happen at any age, lateral epicondylitis is most common among active, middle-aged individuals.
The protrusion extending from the bottom of the humerus, on the outside of the elbow, is called the lateral epicondyle. Tendons connecting forearm muscles at the elbow, attach at this point. As these tendons become inflamed or irritated, lateral epicondylitis develops.
Certain forearm muscles, known as wrist extensors, control hand movement and extension. It is overuse of the extensors which strains tendons over time, leading to tennis elbow. In particular, the extensor carpi radials brevis, which helps stabilize the hand when the elbow is straight, is commonly impacted by tennis elbow.
The following symptoms may accompany lateral epicondylitis, commonly known as tennis elbow:
- Pain begins as mild and slowly worsens over weeks and months
- Pain or burning on outer part of elbow
- Weak grip strength
- Symptoms may worsen with forearm activity
Loose Body in the Elbow
The elbow joint joins three bones, relying on ligaments, tendons, and muscles to stabilize its structure and control movement. The upper arm’s humerus and the two bones of the forearm, the radius and ulna, meet at the flexible joint. Between bone contacts, cartilage cushions the elbow joint, providing a smooth layer to protect the bone surfaces and help them glide smoothly, without damage. Occasionally, a piece of bone or cartilage, known as a loose body, floats within the joint. A loose body in the elbow may cause pain, stiffness, and other symptoms.
Loose body in the elbow may result from fracture or trauma to the joint. Because they are prone to these types of injuries, athletes and active individuals are at increased risk for developing the condition. Osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and destruction of tissue lining the joint can also cause cartilage or bone fragments to float.
Prolonged participation in overhead activities, like weightlifting and certain work-related motions increases the risk for developing loose bodies.
When caused by a fracture, a loose body in the elbow may be a large free-floating bone fragment. Other loose bodies are small, containing no bone at all. Depending upon the size and location of the loose body, removal using an orthoscopic procedure can correct the condition. When a large loose body is present, however, a surgeon may recommend fixing it to an adjacent bone. In some cases, it is possible to break-up loose bodies, enabling the human body’s natural enzymes to degrade the remaining material.
A loose body in the elbow may result in these symptoms:
- Intermittent pain
Osteoarthritis (“Wear and Tear” Elbow Arthritis)
Osteoarthritis is an uncomfortable, degenerative condition affecting joints. Although it can occur across the entire body, “wear and tear” arthritis frequently affects the neck, hips, finger joints, and knees. Overall, osteoarthritis is less common in the elbow than it is in weight-bearing joints, but the degenerative disease can set-in when elbow tissue becomes worn or damaged.
Acute injury and age are principal risk factors for developing wear and tear arthritis. Under normal circumstances, the bones of the elbow are cushioned by cartilage and soft tissue, relying on muscles, tendons and ligaments to keep the structure aligned. The cartilage assists fluid movement, providing an even contact surface for bones. Osteoarthritis occurs when cartilage in the elbow joint sustains acute damage or deteriorates, over time. As elbow arthritis progresses, the material loses its ability to cushion the contact, and bone surfaces no longer glide smoothly at the joint.
Possible causes of elbow arthritis include:
- Age – The tissue surrounding elbow bones degrades over time, increasing the risk for irritation, inflammation and wear and tear arthritis. Though it is possible to develop arthritis at a young age, most cases cause symptoms beyond age 50.
- Elbow Injuries – Elbow dislocation or fracture may increase the risk of developing osteoarthritis. A history of sports-related trauma or overuse, for instance, may cause osteoarthritis in aging athletes.
- Overall Health – Weight-bearing joints are particularly vulnerable to arthritis, so maintaining a healthy body weight can alleviate symptoms in the hips and knees. Proper rest, nutrition and hydration help manage symptoms of osteoarthritis.
- Family History – Those with a family history of joint problems may be predisposed to developing osteoarthritis
Osteoarthritis symptoms appear when cartilage at the elbow joint becomes less effective cushioning the bones’ contact. Pain and inflammation result, sometimes limiting movement in the affected joint. As the degenerative condition worsens, elbow surfaces become rough, leading to bone spurs, nerve involvement and other complications.
- Loss of range of motion
- A “grating” or “locking” sensation in elbow
- Joint swelling may eventually occur
- In later stages, numbness in ring finger and small finger
- Elbow may stiffen into a position where it is bent
Ulnar Nerve Entrapment at Elbow (Constricted Arm Nerve)
The elbow is subject to various pain-causing conditions. Among them, a pinched nerve near the elbow joint can lead to discomfort, weakness and further complications. Ulnar nerve entrapment, or cubital tunnel syndrome, occurs when the ulnar nerve becomes constricted and irritated, causing pain, tingling and other symptoms. Under most circumstances the condition is successfully treated with conservative measures, but surgery may be required to prevent further damage.
The ulnar nerve is vulnerable to compression as it passes through the cubital tunnel and runs close to the surface, near the elbow. Nerve constriction and damage are responsible for pain associated with the condition, but the cause of nerve entrapment isn’t always known.
It is thought those with a history of fractures and bone spurs may be at higher risk for developing constricted arm nerves, and certain activities are known contributors to the condition. Athletic and occupational use, for example, may lead to ulnar nerve entrapment at the elbow – particularly when the joint is bent or held in the same position for extended periods of time. Bicyclists sometimes experience ulnar nerve constriction at both the elbow and wrist. And an acute sports injury to the elbow can cause damage leading to constriction. Everyday causes may include sleeping with a bent, fixed elbow.
Sharing responsibility for fine motor control, grip, and feeling in the fingers, the ulnar nerve traces a path from the neck to the hand. It runs along the inside of the elbow, forming the “funny bone” at the point where it passes under the medial epicondyle. The nerve can become pinched and irritated at the wrist or beneath the collarbone, but ulnar nerve constriction most frequently occurs at the elbow joint. Because it is involved with feeling in the little finger and index finger, ulnar nerve entrapment causes pain on the outside of the arm, as well as the elbow.
Ulnar nerve entrapment, also known as cubital tunnel syndrome, is a constricted arm nerve at the elbow, presenting the following symptoms:
- Aching pain on inside of elbow
- Numbness and tingling in ring finger and little finger
- May experience weakened grip
- May experience difficulty moving fingers or manipulating objects
- May experience difficulty with finger coordination
- Rare but serious muscle loss in hand can occur