The elbow joint connects the forearm to the upper arm. The bones of the elbow consist of the numerus (upper arm), the radius and the ulnar (two bones of the lower arm). The elbow, a hinge joint, bends, extends and rotates. Imagine a horseshoe. The end of the numerus represents a horseshoe in shape so that the olecranon process of the ulnar fits nicely into the horseshoe of the numerus. The horseshoe’s two sides are called the lateral and medial epicondyles.
Seven major muscles of the elbow allow the flexion (bending), extension (stretching) and rotation (turning sideways) of the forearm; while, another nine muscles of the forearm traverse the elbow to move the wrist and fingers of the hand.
How are elbow problems diagnosed?
Sometimes X-ray can show small pieces of loose bone in your joint. Very rarely an ultrasound scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan may be needed to rule out or confirm a diagnosis.
If one has cubital tunnel syndrome, nerve conduction test is done. This can help confirm the diagnosis or show how severe the compression is. Small electrodes are placed on your skin to stimulate the ulnar nerve. They can measure how fast the nerve impulse moves, and the length of delay will give an idea of how badly the nerve is being squeezed.
Doctor may suggest you have an x-ray or other tests to check for the cause of your symptoms and, depending on the problem, may recommend treatments such as physiotherapy or steroid injections.
What causes elbow pain?
It’s important not to rest for too long as lack of movement causes your joint to stiffen and the muscles around your elbow to weaken, which increases the chance that you’ll have further symptoms. Simple exercises can help to reduce the risk of future problems. Long-term elbow pain can be caused by arthritis.
It has many causes and can happen if you’ve injured your elbow in the past, for example if you’ve fractured the joint. Rheumatoid arthritis also commonly affects the elbow.
While stiffness doesn’t cause pain it can make your elbow feel uncomfortable. Losing any range of movement is called stiffness.
Stiffness can be caused by:
- Fractures around your elbow
- Inflammation in the joint (e.g. if you have rheumatoid arthritis)
- Abnormal bone formation, where bone forms in the muscles around your elbow following an injury or operation – we don’t know why this happens
- Soft tissue contractures, which happen when the covering tissues around the elbow shrink – this can sometimes happen following injury
Chronic Conditions Of The Elbow
Chronic olecranon bursa lies between the point of the elbow and the overlying skin. It allows the elbow to smoothly bend and straighten. After initial trauma, bleeding fills the sac with blood and is thought to trigger an inflammatory reaction. The inflammatory reaction causes thickening and swelling of the walls, but with repeated injury, the bursitis continues. Conservative treatments encompass the use of cold packs when painful or tender, compressive wrap for active swelling and protective pads on the elbows if needed.