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Elbow Pain for Athletes: Causes and Treatment

Elbow pain in athletes can impede many day-to-day functions in addition to being frustrating and, at times, even excruciating. Elbow pain or sports-related injuries can occur from a multitude of causes including overuse as well as traumatic incidents. 

 

Severe elbow pain should always be evaluated by a qualified orthopedic surgeon, like Dr. Chronister, for an accurate diagnosis and personalized treatment plan.

Understanding Elbow Pain

It's important to understand the causes and symptoms of elbow pain to put together a personalized treatment plan and get you back into action.

Common symptoms associated with elbow pain in athletes can vary in intensity and duration depending on the underlying cause. Some of the most frequently reported symptoms include:

  • Sharp pain in the elbow joint

  • Tenderness or sensitivity to touch

  • Swelling or inflammation

  • Stiffness or limited range of motion

  • Weakened grip strength

  • Numbness or tingling sensations

Common Causes 

Elbow pain can be caused by various factors, including acute injuries, wear-and-tear injuries, as well as disease.

Acute Injuries

Acute injuries, such as falls, accidents, or direct blows to the elbow, can result in immediate elbow pain. These injuries may cause fractures, dislocations, ligament sprains, or muscle strains. Symptoms of acute injuries include immediate pain, swelling, bruising, and limited range of motion. Prompt medical attention is crucial to assess the extent of the injury and determine the appropriate treatment.

Wear-and-Tear Injuries

Wear-and-tear injuries, also known as overuse injuries, occur gradually over time due to repetitive motions or excessive strain on the elbow joint. Repetitive gripping, throwing, or lifting heavy objects can lead to conditions like tennis elbow or golfer's elbow causing chronic pain, stiffness, and weakness in the elbow. Rest, physical therapy, and lifestyle modifications are often recommended to manage these kinds of injuries.

Diseases

Several diseases can contribute to elbow pain. Conditions like arthritis, bursitis, tendinitis, gout, and nerve compression disorders can all cause discomfort in the elbow joint. These diseases may result in inflammation, swelling, stiffness, and limited mobility. Diagnosing the underlying disease is crucial for implementing the appropriate treatment plan, which may involve medication, physical therapy, or in severe cases, surgery.

Managing Symptoms

One of the first steps in managing elbow pain is to try home remedies and self-care techniques. Try the following tips to alleviate discomfort in the elbow:

  • Applying ice to the affected area for 15-20 minutes several times a day can help reduce swelling and inflammation.

  • Heat can sometimes be beneficial for relieving elbow pain. Applying a warm compress or taking a warm shower can help relax the muscles and increase blood flow to the area. Be sure to avoid using heat if there's any swelling present.

  • It is important to rest your elbow and avoid any activities that exacerbate pain for expedited healing.

  • Gentle stretching exercises can improve flexibility, reduce stiffness, and strengthen the muscles around the elbow joint. Make sure to perform these stretches under the guidance of a healthcare professional to ensure they're done correctly.

  • Bracing the elbow can provide support and stability, especially during activities that put stress on the joint. Elbow braces or splints can help reduce strain and prevent further damage. Consult with a healthcare professional to determine the appropriate type of brace and how long it should be worn.

When Should You Seek Medical Attention?

If you're experiencing severe pain that doesn't improve with rest, or self-care techniques, or if the pain is accompanied by swelling, redness, or warmth in the elbow joint, it's recommended to contact a healthcare provider. These symptoms may indicate a more serious underlying condition such as an infection or an inflammatory disorder.

 

Other indications for contacting a healthcare provider also include:

  • Difficulty in moving the elbow joint

  • Inability to fully extend or flex the arm

  • You have recently experienced a traumatic injury to the elbow.

  • If you notice numbness, tingling, or weakness in your hand or fingers, it's advisable to seek medical attention as these symptoms could indicate nerve compression or damage.

 

Understanding the importance of early intervention is crucial. Seeking medical attention promptly can help prevent further damage or complications and ensure appropriate treatment is provided.

Diagnosis and Treatment for Sports-Related Elbow Injuries

If you do find you need to seek professional help, your orthopedic doctor will use various methods to diagnose the underlying causes of elbow pain.

 

During a thorough physical exam, the healthcare provider will assess the range of motion, strength, and tenderness of your elbow. They may also ask about your medical history and any recent activities or injuries that could contribute to the pain.

In some cases, additional diagnostic tests may be necessary to identify the specific cause of elbow pain such as:

  • X-rays

  • MRIs

  • Ultrasound scans

Once a diagnosis is established, you and your healthcare provider can discuss appropriate treatment options like:

 

  • Physical therapy to improve flexibility, strengthen muscles, and reduce pain.

  • In some cases, medication may be prescribed to alleviate pain and inflammation.

  • For more severe cases, corticosteroid injections may be administered to reduce inflammation and provide temporary relief.

  • In instances where conservative treatments fail to provide relief, surgical interventions may be considered.

 

Surgery can address various conditions, including fractures, tendon tears, or severe joint damage. It's important to consult with a qualified orthopedic surgeon to determine the most appropriate surgical option based on your specific condition.

 

Dr. Chronister specializes in diagnosing and treating sports-related elbow injuries in athletes. Our team of experienced professionals will conduct a thorough evaluation to determine the cause of your discomfort and develop a personalized treatment plan to alleviate your symptoms.

 

Contact our team today to schedule an appointment and take the first step toward finding relief!

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