Everyone has had a minor elbow injury. You may have bumped your "funny bone" at the back of your elbow, causing shooting numbness and pain. The funny-bone sensation can be intense, but it is not serious and will go away on its own. Maybe your elbow has become sore after activity. Elbow injuries can be minor or serious and may include symptoms such as pain, swelling, numbness, tingling, weakness, or decreased range of motion. Home treatment often can help relieve minor aches and pains.
Injuries are the most common cause of elbow pain. Some people may not recall having had a specific injury, especially if symptoms began gradually or during everyday activities.To better understand elbow injuries, you may want to review the structure and function of the elbow. See a picture of the elbow .
Elbow injuries occur most commonly during:
- Sports or recreational activities.
- Work-related tasks.
- Work or projects around the home.
Most elbow injuries in children occur during activities, such as sports or play, or are the result of accidental falls. The risk for injury is higher in contact sports such as wrestling, football, or soccer, or high-speed sports such as biking, in-line skating, skiing, hockey, snowboarding, or skateboarding. Elbows, forearms, wrists, hands, and fingers are the most affected body areas. Any injury in a child or teen that occurs near a joint may injure the growing end (growth plate) of long bones and needs to be evaluated.
Older adults have a higher risk for injuries and fractures because they lose muscle mass and bone strength (osteoporosis) as they age. They also have more problems with vision and balance, which increase their risk for accidental injury.
Sudden (acute) injury
An acute injury may be caused by a direct blow, penetrating injury, or fall or by twisting, jerking, jamming, or bending an elbow abnormally. Pain may be sudden and severe. Bruising and swelling may develop soon after the injury. Acute injuries include:
- Bruises from a tear or rupture of small blood vessels under the skin.
- Injuries to ligaments, the ropy fibers that connect bones to bones around joints.
- Injuries to tendons that connect muscles to bones.
- Injuries to joints (sprains) that stretch or tear the ligaments.
- Pulled muscles (strains) caused by overstretching muscles.
- Muscle tears or ruptures, such as your biceps or triceps in your upper arm.
- Broken bones (fractures) of the upper arm bone (humerus) or the forearm bones (ulna or radius) at the elbow joint.
- Dislocations of the elbow joint (out of its normal position).
Overuse injuries occur when too much stress is placed on a joint or other tissue, often by overdoing an activity or through repetition of an activity. Overuse injuries include:
- Bursitis. Swelling behind the elbow may be olecranon bursitis (Popeye elbow).
- Tendinosis, which is a series of microtears in the connective tissue in or around the tendon.
- Soreness or pain felt on the outside (lateral) part of the elbow may be tennis elbow (lateral epicondylitis). This is the most common type of tendinopathy that affects the elbow and most often is caused by overuse of the forearm muscles. This overuse may occur during sports, such as tennis, swimming, golf, and sports involving throwing; jobs, such as carpentry or plumbing; or daily activities, such as lifting objects or gardening.
- Soreness or pain in the inner (medial) part of the elbow may be golfer's elbow. In children who participate in sports that involve throwing, the same elbow pain may be described as Little Leaguer's elbow.
- Pinched nerves, such as ulnar nerve compression, which is the pinching of the ulnar nerve near the elbow joint. This usually occurs with repeated motions.
An infection of the elbow may cause pain, redness, swelling, warmth, fever, chills, pus, or swollen lymph nodes in the armpit on that side of your body. "Shooter's abscess" is an infection commonly seen in people who inject illegal drugs into the veins of their arms.
Elbow injuries such as bruises, burns, fractures, cuts, or punctures may be caused by abuse. Suspect possible abuse when an injury cannot be explained or does not match the explanation, repeated injuries occur, or the explanations for the cause of the injury change.
- The location, type, and severity of the injury.
- How long ago the injury occurred.
- Your age, health condition, and activities, such as work, sports, or hobbies.
Check your symptoms to decide if and when you should see a doctor.