Why Does My Elbow Hurt?

Why Does My Elbow Hurt?
Man holding his elbow in pain

What is causing your elbow pain, and how can you fix it?

Often the main cause of any sort of elbow pain is overuse.

This is because your elbow moves in many different directions and it is susceptible to injury.

The elbow joint often goes unnoticed in your day to day life until something goes wrong as your range of motion has been affected.

It lets you lift, hug, throw, cook and even get dressed, suddenly when those tasks become a burden it can be physically and mentally draining.

Your elbow is one of the more complex joints in the body which unfortunately means there can be several causes to your pain.

The elbow is quite literally a funny bone, it is your ulnar nerve that gives you a sharp pain if it is knocked in a certain place.

Three bones join up to make the elbow which are connected by multiple ligaments and tendons.

Inflammation of the tendons is most often the cause of your pain, this is caused by constant overuse and repetitive actions of your elbow joint.

Simple exercises and a good physical therapist can significantly help reduce the risk of future elbow issues such as arthritis.

It is always best to double check with your doctor or physical therapist to see what the cause of your pain is if it doesn’t go away after a few days.

If you can’t straighten your arm after the injury, contact your doctor right away, they will likely x-ray you for a potential fracture.

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Tennis Elbow/Golfer’s Elbow

Tennis player with tennis elbow

Tennis elbow and golfer’s elbow are some of the most common elbow injuries that we see.

These are caused by repetitive motions such as a tennis players or golfer’s swing causing general wear and tear around the elbow.

Both tennis elbow and golfer’s elbow are a form of tendinitis which is essentially swelling of the tendons that causes pain in the elbow and arm.

Despite the injuries being named after a sport you can get either of them having never picked up a tennis racket or golf club in your life.

The medical names for both injuries are medial epicondylitis (golfer’s elbow) and lateral epicondylitis (tennis elbow).

However it’s far easier just to say tennis and golfer’s elbow.

Tennis Elbow

Tennis elbow affects the tendons on the outside of the elbow.

People who play racquet sports or are in professions such as painters, plumbers, autoworkers and cooks have a higher chance of developing tennis elbow as it is stemmed from repetitive muscle use.

Around 3% of the population in the United States will develop tennis elbow and half of all tennis players will develop it during their career.

Common symptoms are upper arm pain and issues gripping the racquet or work tool.

It is often caused by incorrect movements of the arm which leads to small tears in tendons of the elbow.

Rest, hot and cold therapy with stretching and strengthening exercises are usually enough to give you pain relief.

Golfer’s Elbow

Golfer holding his elbow in pain due to golfer's elbow

Also known as little leaguer’s, golfer’s elbow affects the inner tendons of the elbow.

The repetitive swing of a golf club or the throwing motion by a pitcher in baseball are common causes of this type of elbow pain.

Away from sport, repetitive hand motions such as swinging a hammer every day can also trigger golfer’s elbow.

Unlike tennis elbow, the pain for golfer’s elbow is often found on the inside of the elbow.

Other symptoms include:

  • Pain when lifting or bending the wrist forward
  • Pain when twisting the wrist
  • Tenderness on the inside of the elbow

Golfer’s elbow is less common than tennis elbow, however both have similarities in their symptoms and causes.

Reducing the aggravating activities whilst you let your elbow heal is key for your recovery.

Limiting the stress of the tendons reduces your risk of making the injury more serious.

Rest, hot and cold therapy with stretching and strengthening exercises are usually enough to give you pain relief for both types of injuries.

Your physical therapist will be able to put you on a plan to help aid your recovery even further.


Old man suffering from arthritis in his elbow

Unfortunately arthritis is fairly common in the elbow as you get older.

Your elbow is used repetitively each day and the connecting tendons and ligaments will get weaker over time through natural wear and tear.

Simply put, arthritis causes pain and swelling within a joint.

Arthritis will often get worse and more painful over time so the sooner you can treat it the better.

Osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis are the main types of arthritis that affect the elbows.

The difference between the two being osteoarthritis is the wearing away of the cartilage whereas rheumatoid arthritis is a disease where the immune system attacks the joints.


Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis as it can damage any joint and it affects millions of people across the globe

Symptoms often develop slowly and gradually over time so you may not realize you have it at first.

Because of this osteoarthritis is usually age related and most commonly occurs in people over the age of 50.

Your risk of developing osteoarthritis increases if you’ve had a history of elbow injuries, lost the joint cartilage or the joint surface can’t be repaired.

The good news is that symptoms can often be managed. Unfortunately the damage done can’t be reserved, but you can slow down the progression often through good physical therapy and keeping active.

Symptoms of osteoarthritis include:

  • Pain and swelling around the elbow
  • Loss of range of motion
  • Grating sensation
  • Stiffness
  • Tenderness

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic disease which is caused by an overactive immune system.
It most commonly develops in the elbow and causes the immune system to attack the lining of healthy joints.

It mainly causes inflammation and swelling in the joint of the elbow and pain can start in the early stages of the disease.

Unfortunately as rheumatoid arthritis progresses, overtime it will start to attack other parts of the body such as knees, hands and hips.

Symptoms include:

  • Restricted Mobility
  • Elbow locking in place
  • Pain on the outer side of the joint
  • Joint Stiffness
  • Dull ache or throbbing pain

If you feel like you are developing rheumatoid arthritis it is vital that you consult a physical therapist to help relieve joint pressure and pain.

Short term fixes include hot and cold therapy, resting and avoiding overuse and wearing an elbow support during the day.


Person with bursitis in their elbow

Bursitis is the inflammation of the elbow, in particular the part of your elbow where the fluid is stored

The fluid acts as a cushion between the bones and reduces friction in the elbow.

You may develop olecranon bursitis which can be called “Popeye’s elbow” due to the pointy part of your elbow swelling up.

Bursitis is often caused by a hard blow to the elbow which then causes it to swell.

Other causes include leaning on your elbows on a hard surface over a long period of time, this is often seen in professions like plumbing or people who work on their elbows a lot.

Symptoms of bursitis include:

  • Swelling
  • Redness or warmth
  • Tenderness

In most cases treatments are fairly simple as ice and compression will often reduce the swelling.

Rest and controlling the swelling are crucial to improving bursitis.

Impact Injuries

woman icing her elbow after an impact injury

This is fairly self explanatory as you will more than likely be aware if you have hurt your elbow as a result of an impact injury.

However if your elbow is still sore after a few days of an impact injury, such as a fall or a sports accident you should seek medical assistance.

Your elbow will be sore to touch and the bruising will have already started.

In most of these cases resting and icing your elbow should help get you back to normal.

If you still can not fully extend your elbow you need to see a doctor urgently in order to have an x-ray.

You might have sprained, dislocated or fractured your elbow.

If this is the case you will probably been in extreme discomfort and need medical assistance.

Can Physical Therapy Help My Elbow Pain?

Woman receiving physical therapy for an elbow injury

Physical therapy is a great way to aid you as you recover from your elbow injury.

Here at Intecore PT we have a team of highly trained physical therapists just waiting to welcome you into our clinic.

One of the main advantages you will see is that physical therapy will try to ease the pain and help your body heal.

Not only that but our team will give you specialized exercises that are tailored to you and your recovery to help strengthen your elbows and the muscles around it.

These specific exercises to stretch and strengthen the muscles will all help the healing process and improve your resistance to repetitive stress.

If you feel like you are unsure about physical therapy why not book a FREE Discovery Visit with one of our Physical Therapists.

It is perfect for people suffering with elbow pain or stiffness. The huge benefit of our discovery session is that you’ll leave knowing exactly what is wrong and how physical therapy works.

If you just want to give us a call and see how we can help that is no problem.

Call us now and arrange your FREE 15 Minute Telephone Consultation.

We look forward to welcoming you through our doors soon and letting you leave pain free.

Andrew Vertson