The elbow joint connects the bone of the upper arm, the humerus, with the two bones of the lower arm, the radius and the ulna. Within the joint structure are three smaller joints, created by the communication of the three separate bones. The humerus-ulna joint and the humerus-radius joint contribute to the hinge-like motion of the arm. The radius-ulna joint and the humerus-radius joint permit rotation of the forearm and the palm-up, palm-down positioning of the hand.
Common Problems of the Elbow
A common injury to the elbow is a fracture resulting from a traumatic blow. For example, a fall onto an outstretched wrist can result in elbow fracture. When the elbow fractures, there is a great deal of pain, swelling and tenderness. Attempts at moving are quite painful.
If a fracture is suspected, the injury needs to be evaluated by a doctor immediately. Surgery is often required if the fracture is displaced.
Bursitis is an inflammation of the fluid-filled sac or bursa that cushions the joint. Bursitis in the shoulder is called "subdeltoid bursitis," and it can lead to frozen shoulder if the irritation continues and is left untreated.
The treatment for bursitis is most often rest. Ice and possibly steroid injections may help with the pain. If the bursitis is recurring, it maybe treated surgically.
The most common problem of the elbow is "tennis elbow," which is an inflammation of muscles on the outside of the elbow. These muscles attach above the elbow and course down the forearm. Their function is to lift the wrist. If tendinitis occurs on the inside of the elbow, it is called golfer's elbow. It is most frequently caused by overuse, although it can result from a traumatic blow. Symptoms include tenderness directly over the affected muscles and frequently the pain radiates down into the forearm, particularly with use of the hand and wrist. Usually, symptoms come on gradually but they can appear rather suddenly, particularly after an activity that involves repetitive motion such as planting a garden, or a great deal of writing or typing.
Rest is important to allow the muscles to recover. If activities are painful, they need to be altered, or stopped until the elbow has had a chance to heal. Heat, followed by a stretching and strengthening program, and then ice massage is quite helpful. A tennis elbow strap is also helpful to alleviate some of the pressure from the muscle attachment. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines decrease the pain and inflammation. If symptoms persist beyond two to four weeks, a physician should be consulted. Steroid injections may be used and sometimes even a cast is necessary to alleviate the symptoms.
CSO surgeons who specialize in Elbow disorders
- R. Clio Robertson, M.D.
- David K. Wong, M.D.
- Jeff A. Fox, M.D.*
- Bradley J. Lawson, MD
- Blake E. Shockley, MD
*Fellowship focus in area