Elbow Pain

Elbow Pain

Article by John Miller

How to Relieve Your Elbow Pain at the Source

Elbow pain and injury respond favourably to physiotherapy intervention when early treatment is sought. An accurate diagnosis is a key to a prompt recovery.

Diagnosing the source of your elbow pain can be complicated even for experienced upper limb health practitioners. A multitude of sources can cause elbow pain. These may be local structures, referred structures and other systemic conditions.

Local elbow pain is commonly caused by a local muscle, tendon or joint injury. Alternatively, your neck can refer to elbow pain. Lateral elbow pain (e.g. tennis elbow) can be commonly caused by irritation or compromise of your C5/6 nerve. In this example, a neck problem can refer pain to in the lateral aspect of your elbow. Treatment directed at the elbow in this instant will not resolve your elbow pain. It will require neck treatment directed at your cervical radiculopathy to be successful. Hence, an accurate diagnosis from a health practitioner skilled in thoroughly assessing elbow pain is highly recommended.

More info: Neck Arm Pain

For more specific advice regarding your elbow pain, please consult your trusted health practitioner.

Common Sources of Elbow Pain

The most common source of elbow pain that presents clinically is lateral epicondylalgia (lateral elbow pain). This is also the medical term to describe tennis elbow.

Medial epicondylalgia (medial elbow pain) is a similar condition on the inner aspect of your elbow and is commonly known as a golfers elbow.

Elbow Pain Causes

Please visit the links below for some of the more common sources of elbow pain.

Elbow-Related Arm Pain

Neck-Related Arm Pain

Muscle-Related Arm Pain

Other Sources of Arm Pain

Common Treatments For Elbow Pain

With accurate assessment and early treatment, most elbow pain responds extremely quickly to physiotherapy that will allow you to resume pain-free and normal activities of daily living quickly. Some conditions may require diagnostic investigations such as X-rays, Ultrasound, MRI or CT scans. Fractures, dislocations and some severe or chronic injuries may require surgical opinion or intervention.

Please ask your physiotherapist for their professional treatment advice.

Acute Injury Signs

Acute Injury Management.

Here are some warning signs that you have an injury. While some injuries are immediately evident, others can creep up slowly and progressively get worse. If you don't pay attention to both types of injuries, chronic problems can develop.

For detailed information on specific injuries, check out the injury by body part section.

Don't Ignore these Injury Warning Signs

Joint Pain

Joint pain, particularly in the knee, ankle, elbow, and wrist joints, should never be ignored. Because these joints are not covered by muscle, pain here is rarely of muscular origin. Joint pain that lasts more than 48 hours requires a professional diagnosis.

Tenderness

If you can elicit pain at a specific point in a bone, muscle, or joint, you may have a significant injury by pressing your finger into it. If the same spot on the other side of the body does not produce the same pain, you should probably see your health professional.  

Swelling

Nearly all sports or musculoskeletal injuries cause swelling. Swelling is usually quite obvious and can be seen, but occasionally you may feel as though something is swollen or "full" even though it looks normal. Swelling usually goes along with pain, redness and heat.

Reduced Range of Motion

If the swelling isn't obvious, you can usually find it by checking for a reduced range of motion in a joint. If there is significant swelling within a joint, you will lose range of motion. Compare one side of the body with the other to identify major differences. If there are any, you probably have an injury that needs attention.

Weakness

Compare sides for weakness by performing the same task. One way to tell is to lift the same weight with the right and left sides and look at the result. Or try to place body weight on one leg and then the other. A difference in your ability to support your weight is another suggestion of an injury that requires attention.

Immediate Injury Treatment: Step-by-Step Guidelines

  • Stop the activity immediately.
  • Wrap the injured part in a compression bandage.
  • Apply ice to the injured part (use a bag of crushed ice or a bag of frozen vegetables).
  • Elevate the injured part to reduce swelling.
  • Consult your health practitioner for a proper diagnosis of any serious injury.
  • Rehabilitate your injury under professional guidance.
  • Seek a second opinion if you are not improving.

Article by John Miller

What is a Tendinopathy?

Tendinopathy (tendon injuries) can develop in any tendon of the body. You may have heard of tendinopathies referred to as its aliases: tendonitis, tendinitis, tenosynovitis and tendinosis. In simple terms, they are all tendon injury pathologies, so the medical community now refers to them as tendinopathies.

Typically, tendon injuries occur in three areas:

  • tendon insertion (where the tendon attaches to the bone)
  • mid-tendon (non-insertional tendinopathy)
  • musculotendinous junction (where the tendon attaches to the muscle)

What is a Tendon Injury?

Tendons are the tough fibres that connect muscle to bone. Most tendon injuries occur near joints, such as the shoulder, elbow, knee, and ankle. A tendon injury may seem to occur suddenly, but usually, it is the result of repetitive tendon overloading. As mentioned earlier, health care professionals may use different terms to describe a tendon injury. You may hear:

Tendinitis (or Tendonitis): This means "inflammation of the tendon".

Mild inflammation is actually a normal tendon healing response to exercise or activity loading, but it can become excessive, where the rate of injury exceeds your healing capacity.

Tendinopathy Phases

The inability of your tendon to adapt to the load quickly enough causes the tendon to progress through four phases of tendon injury. While it is healthy for normal tissue adaptation during phase one, further progression can lead to tendon cell death and subsequent tendon rupture.

1. Reactive Tendinopathy

  • Normal tissue adaptation phase
  • Prognosis: Excellent.
  • Normal Recovery!

2. Tendon Dysrepair

  • Injury rate > Repair rate
  • Prognosis: Good.
  • The tendon tissue is attempting to heal.
  • You must prevent deterioration and progression to permanent cell death (phase 3).

3. Degenerative Tendinopathy

  • Cell death occurs
  • Prognosis: Poor!
  • Tendon cells are dying!

4. Tendon Tear or Rupture

  • Catastrophic tissue breakdown
  • Loss of function.
  • Prognosis: very poor.
  • Surgery is often the only option.

What is Your Tendinopathy Phase?

It is crucial to have your tendinopathy professionally assessed to identify its current injury phase. Identifying your tendinopathy phase is vital to direct your most effective treatment since certain treatment modalities or exercises should only be applied or undertaken in specific tendon healing phases.

Systemic Risk Factors

The evidence is growing that it is more than just the tendon and overload that causes tendinopathy. People with diabetes, post-menopausal women and men with high central adiposity (body fat) seem to be predisposed to tendinopathies and will need to observe their training loads.

What are the Symptoms of Tendinopathy?

Tendinopathy usually causes pain, stiffness, and loss of strength in the affected area.

  • The pain may get worse when you use the tendon.
  • You may have more pain and stiffness during the night or when you get up in the morning.
  • The area may be tender, red, warm, or swollen if there is inflammation.
  • You may notice a crunchy sound or feeling when you use the tendon.

The symptoms of a tendon injury can be similar or combined with bursitis.

How is a Tendon Injury Diagnosed?

To diagnose a tendon injury, your physiotherapist or doctor will ask questions about your past health, symptoms, and recent exercise regime. They'll undertake a thorough physical examination to confirm the diagnosis. They will then discuss your condition and devise an individualised treatment plan.

They may refer you for specific diagnostic tests, such as an ultrasound scan or MRI.

Tendinopathy Treatment

Tendinopathies can normally be quickly and effectively rehabilitated. However, there is a percentage of tendinopathies that can take months to treat effectively.

As mentioned earlier in this article, it is important to know what phase your tendinopathy currently is. Your physiotherapist can assist not only in your diagnosis but also guide your treatment to fast-track your recovery.

Before you seek the advice of your physiotherapist or doctor, you can start treating an acute tendon injury at home. To achieve the best results, start these steps right away:

  • Rest the painful area, and avoid any activity that makes the pain worse.
  • Apply ice or cold packs for 20 minutes at a time, as often as 2 times an hour, for the first 72 hours. Keep using ice as long as it helps.
  • Do gentle range-of-motion exercises and stretching to prevent stiffness.

When to Return to Sport

Every tendinopathy is different, so please be guided by your physiotherapist assessment. Be patient, and stick with the treatment exercises and load doses prescribed by your physiotherapist. If you start using the injured tendon too soon, it can lead to more damage and set you back weeks! It may take weeks or months for some tendon injury to heal and safely cope with a return to sporting loads.

Tendinopathy Prevention

To minimise reinjuring your tendon, you may require some long-term changes to your exercise activities. These should be discussed with your physiotherapist. Some factors that could influence your tendinopathy risk include:

  • Altering your sport/activities or your technique
  • Regular prevention exercises.
  • Closely monitoring and record your exercise loads. Discuss your loading with your physiotherapist and coach. They will have some excellent tips.
  • Always take time to warm up before and cool down / stretch after you exercise.

Tendinopathy Prognosis

While most acute tendinopathies can resolve quickly, persisting tendon injuries may take many months to resolve. Long-term or repeat tendinopathies usually have multifactorial causes that will require a thorough assessment and individualised rehabilitation plan.  Researchers have found that tendon injuries respond differently to muscle injuries and can take months to solve or potentially render you vulnerable to tendon ruptures, which can require surgery.

For specific advice regarding your tendinopathy, please seek the advice of your trusted healthcare professional with a special interest in tendinopathies.

What is Physiotherapy Treatment?

Physiotherapists help people affected by illness, injury or disability through exercise, manual joint therapy, soft tissue techniques, education and advice.  Physiotherapists maintain physical health, allow patients to manage pain and prevent disease for people of all ages. Physiotherapists help encourage pain relief, injury recovery, enabling people to stay playing a sport, working or performing daily living activities while assisting them to remain functionally independent.

There is a multitude of different physiotherapy treatment approaches.

Acute & Sub-Acute Injury Management

physiotherapy treatment

Hands-On Physiotherapy Techniques

Your physiotherapist's training includes hands-on physiotherapy techniques such as:

Your physiotherapist has skilled training. Physiotherapy techniques have expanded over the past few decades. They have researched, upskilled and educated themselves in a spectrum of allied health skills. These skills include techniques shared with other healthcare practitioners. Professions include exercise physiologists, remedial massage therapists, osteopaths, acupuncturists, kinesiologists, chiropractors and occupational therapists, to name a few.

Physiotherapy Taping

Your physiotherapist is a highly skilled professional who utilises strapping and taping techniques to prevent and assist injuries or pain relief and function.

Alternatively, your physiotherapist may recommend a supportive brace.

Acupuncture and Dry Needling

Many physiotherapists have acquired additional training in acupuncture and dry needling to assist pain relief and muscle function.

Physiotherapy Exercises

Physiotherapists have been trained in the use of exercise therapy to strengthen your muscles and improve your function. Physiotherapy exercises use evidence-based protocols where possible as an effective way that you can solve or prevent pain and injury. Your physiotherapist is highly skilled in prescribing the "best exercises" for you and the most appropriate "exercise dose" for you, depending on your rehabilitation status. Your physiotherapist will incorporate essential pilates, yoga and exercise physiology components to provide you with the best result. They may even use Real-Time Ultrasound Physiotherapy so that you can watch your muscles contract on a screen as you correctly retrain them.

Biomechanical Analysis

Biomechanical assessment, observation and diagnostic skills are paramount to the best treatment. Your physiotherapist is a highly skilled health professional. They possess superb diagnostic skills to detect and ultimately avoid musculoskeletal and sports injuries. Poor technique or posture is one of the most common sources of a repeat injury.

Hydrotherapy

Aquatic water exercises are an effective method to provide low bodyweight exercises.

Sports Physiotherapy

Sports physio requires an extra level of knowledge and physiotherapy to assist injury recovery, prevent injury and improve performance. For the best advice, consult a Sports & Exercise Physiotherapist.

Vestibular Physiotherapy

Women's Health

Women's Health Physiotherapy is a particular interest group of therapies.

Workplace Physiotherapy

Not only can your physiotherapist assist you in sport, but they can also help you at work. Ergonomics looks at the best postures and workstations set up for your body at work or home. Whether it be lifting technique improvement, education programs or workstation setups, your physiotherapist can help you.

Electrotherapy

Plus Much More

Your physiotherapist is a highly skilled body mechanic. A physiotherapist has particular interests in certain injuries or specific conditions. For advice regarding your problem, please get in touch with your PhysioWorks team.