Elbow conditions have become increasingly popular over the past several months. While elbow pain is typically thought of as a sports injury, such as tennis or golfers elbow, however there are other elbow conditions out there that occur from everyday activity. At Motus, our goal is not only to treat the patient’s injury (no matter how it occurs) but to provide our patients with proper education to reduce the risk of reinjury. So we’re breaking down some of the most common elbow conditions that we treat, the treatment methods that are available, and home routines to help with your recovery and education.
Elbow Conditions and Their Causes:
Also called Ulnar Nerve Entrapment, Cubital Tunnel Syndrome is caused by compression of the ulnar nerve, which runs from your neck all the way down to your hand. In this condition, the ulnar nerve becomes compressed and irritated at the elbow, often from frequent bending or leaning on the elbow for long periods of time. Though less common, elbow trauma can also be a cause of Cubital Tunnel. Like many other hand conditions, Cubital Tunnel can cause, pain, tingling and weakness in the hands and fingers.
An elbow fracture or broken elbow can be extremely painful! There are three bones make up the elbow: the Humerus, Radius and Ulna. There are several ways these bones can break either partially or completely and not all three have to break to classify the injury as an elbow fracture. Typically, elbow fractures are caused by some sort of trauma: falling onto your elbows, falling with your arms completely extended, banging elbows on a hard surface or direct contact during a sporting event, just to name a few. Signs of an elbow fracture include extreme arm and elbow pain, loss of feeling in the hand, swelling, and the inability to bend or straighten the elbow.
Tennis/Golfers/ Bowlers Elbow
Tennis, Golfers and Bowlers Elbow are all the same thing. Lateral Epicondylitis (it’s medical term) is the most common of the elbow conditions. This injury is often caused by repetitive motions (like gripping and swinging golf clubs and tennis racquets) that strain your muscles, causing tension in your tendons. But sports are not the only causes of Lateral Epicondylitis; this condition exists in other activities that involve repetitive gripping and arm/wrist movements, like typing, painting, gardening, carpentry and exercising. The most frequent side effect of Tennis Elbow is pain. Because the development is gradual, the pain in the elbow is usually mild at first, progressing over time and continued use.
It is important to know that no matter the appropriate treatment method, elbow conditions should not be taken lightly and if you are feeling any pain, discomfort or swelling in the elbow, you should contact your primary care physician or orthopedic specialist right away. It is easy for elbow conditions to accelerate and for a minor issue to become more serious very quickly.
Treatment with a Surgeon
Surgery is not always the best option to treat any of the above elbow conditions but it can be necessary. Most orthopedic and hand specialists will choose more conservative methods before resorting to surgery. For Cubital Tunnel, it is all about reducing the stress on the Ulnar Nerve. There are few different types of procedures that can achieve this and they are all fairly non-invasive. Open (vs arthroscopic) Tennis Elbow surgery tends to be the most common. Both open and arthroscopic procedures involve making incisions at the elbow and removing or repairing the damaged tendons. Surgery to repair a fractured elbow varies based on the type of break. If one of the bones is broken completely, the procedure usually involves resetting the bones, using pins to hold everything in place and addressing any possible nerve or ligament damage.
In some Cubital Tunnel or Tennis Elbow cases, steroid injections are used to reduce elbow pain and swelling. The anti-inflammatory medication reduces the swelling in the joint, relieving the pressure on the nerves and tendons, offering relief from elbow pain.
Treatment with a Therapist
Therapy tends to be the most effective non-surgical treatment for all of the above elbow conditions, but can also be used for recovery if surgery is performed. Occupational therapy is often suggested to help strengthen the muscles in the forearm and upper arm. Your therapist will work with you to help correct your issue and will provide education to help reduce the likelihood of reoccurrence based on your daily activities. Splinting is also a method used by therapist to help reduce the movements in the elbow and wrist that lead to such injuries.
Motus Rehabilitation offers has an online store where you can shop for bracing, orthotics and other home tools to aid with your recovery from any injury. For these elbow conditions, our therapy team recommends the Comfort Cool Firm D-Ring Wrist Orthosis (which helps immobilize the wrist, ultimately aiding in elbow conditions) and the Bandit Tennis Elbow Strap (to help reduce pain in the elbow). Our therapists also recommend performing the below exercises regularly to help strengthen your muscles, reduce pain and avoid developing debilitating elbow conditions: