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Your definitive guide to elbow pain

The elbow is a hinge joint connecting the forearm to the upper arm and is formed by the humerus of the upper arm and the ulna and radius of the forearm. It is reinforced by a group of strong ligaments on the inside and outside of the joint. Its main movements are to bend and straighten the forearm, and this is done by a group of muscles on the front of the upper arm (biceps) and on the back (triceps).

At the elbow there are small, bony prominences either side of the elbow called epicondyles. The epicondyles allow for attachment of the muscles that move your wrist and fingers. Trauma to the area, or more commonly repetitive overuse of the wrist and forearm muscles during gripping activities, can result in irritation of the tendon where it attaches to the epicondyles. This presents as two distinct injuries:

  • Tennis elbow or lateral epicondylalgia: irritation of the tendon on the outside of the elbow
  • Golfer’s elbow or medial epicondylalgia: irritation of the tendon on the inside of the elbow

Both conditions area painful and are often accompanied by reduced strength of the forearm.

Management can be slow as these tissues can take a while to settle down once they are irritated. It is important to seek management early and:

  • Identify aggravating activities to avoid ongoing irritation
  • Develop a tailored graded exercise program to build up the tendons ability to tolerate load without causing an exacerbation
  • Make a slow return to full wrist movements and activities


Elbow bursitis

Within the elbow like many other joints there is a bursa – a fluid-filled sac that reduces friction between the tissues of the body. The radiohumeral bursa is usually one that gets irritated.

Inflammation of the bursa can occur the joint or tissues become overloaded due to poor technique, or a sudden change in elbow use. Treatment aims to first settle symptoms by avoiding aggravating activities then focuses on addressing the deficits as the inflamed bursa is usually just a symptom, not the cause of the problem.

Elbow collateral ligament sprains

On either side of the elbow are groups of strong supportive connective tissues called ligaments. A sprain or tear of the ligament usually occurs when there is significant force causing gapping of the joint on the inside or outside.

Management and treatment requires a thorough assessment by your physiotherapist and depending on the level of sprain, may require further investigations. But here’s some good news: most of the time a period of rest and a structured exercise program to get you back to your previous level and to prevent reoccurrence is usually all that is needed.

Life Ready Physio — comprehensive, personalised physiotherapy for pain-free living

With over twenty locations across Australia, Life Ready Physio is a physiotherapy and Pilates group with a passion for giving you the mobility to live your very best life.

With physiotherapy services including injury management, Clinical Pilates, gym rehabilitation, hydrotherapy, exercise physiology and remedial massage therapy, we aim to raise the bar of the healthcare industry, while bringing you the pleasure of a pain-free lifestyle.

Should you have an elbow injury or anything else that requires skilled treatment, please get in touch with one of our practitioners to make a booking. Or, if you’d like some more information on the services we offer, click here.

Book an appointment now to get started on your health journey

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