Your elbows are responsible for your ability to pick up, carry, and throw things, working in perfect synchronicity with your shoulders and wrists to perform complex arm movements. Injuries such as elbow impact, dislocation, or repetitive wear and tear can cause elbow pain and arm weakness that can travel up and down. Elbow issues can make it hard to complete daily tasks, let alone function as an athlete.
The elbow is where the humerus, ulna, and radius all meet. The ends of each bone are covered in protective cartilage, so the ends of the bones don’t grind against one another. Ligaments hold the bones together in a joint capsule that is filled with fluid. The biceps and triceps tendons attach your muscles to your bones, and the three main nerves that start at your shoulders and run down to your hands all run across the elbow. Damage to any component can cause pain, weakness, and limited range of motion.
Diagnosis of your elbow injury begins with a full medical history and a comprehensive examination. Tests or scans such as x-rays or MRIs may be ordered to see damage to bones or soft tissues. Once a diagnosis has been confirmed, your doctor can present the different options available for treatment, including one or more non-surgical or surgical options.
You may need anti-inflammatory medications, steroid injections, special bracing, or physical therapy. If These are not sufficient, arthroscopic surgery is typically the best option for repairing damage. This type of minimally invasive surgery can be performed through very small incisions using tiny tools guided by a tiny camera, for fast healing and a return to full or nearly full range of motion.
Common Elbow Injuries
Most common elbow injuries are caused by throwing motions. They are repetitive stress injuries, and can cause chronic pain.
Flexor Tendinitis (Tennis Elbow)
Repetitive throwing of a ball, hitting a ball with a racquet, or similar overhead motion with rotation can irritate and inflame the tendons that attach muscles to the humerus bone on the inner side of the elbow. This can cause severe pain on the inner side of the elbow.
Ulnar Collateral Ligament (UCL) Injury
The same type of throwing motion that can cause damage to the tendons can also cause damage to ligaments. The ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) can become inflamed, and even torn if proper care isn’t taken. In addition to inner elbow pain, reduced throwing velocity is often noted in athletes with this injury.
Valgus Extension Overload (VEO)
One again, during a throwing motion, the olecranon and humerus bones are jammed and ground against each other. When the natural protective cartilage wears away, the result can be valgus extension overload (VEO), causing abnormal overgrowth of bone called bone spurs. This typically causes swelling and pain where the two bones meet.