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Pro Care Physiotherapy & Athletes' Injury Center
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Address: 460 W Hunt Club Rd Unit 102A, Nepean, ON K2E 0B8

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Elbow Conditions

Elbow Explained

The elbow joint is formed of three bones. The upper arm bone (humerus) meets the inner and outer bones of the forearm (ulna & radius) and forms a hinge joint, which permits the elbow to bend and straighten. The radius and ulna also meet in the elbow, which allows the forearm to rotate (twisting upward and downward).

The major muscles that move the elbow are the triceps (straighten the elbow) and the biceps (bending the elbow). Some muscles that move the wrist and hand also attach to either the outside of the elbow (lateral epicondyle) or to the inside of the elbow (medial epicondyle).

A fluid-filled sac (bursa), overlies on the tip of the elbow (olecranon bursa) and serves to reduce friction between parts of the elbow.

Elbow Conditions

There are many possible injuries that can occur to the elbow including:

  • Lateral epicondylitis (Tennis elbow)
  • Medial epicondylitis (Golfer’s elbow)
  • Olecranon bursitis
  • Elbow fracture
  • Elbow dislocation
  • Ulnar nerve entrapment


Lateral Epicondylitis (Tennis Elbow)

Lateral epicondylitis, also known as tennis elbow, is pain or soreness on the outer part of the elbow. The pain may spread down the forearm and even into the wrist. This happens when the tendons, which connect the muscles of the forearm to the elbow, get inflamed.

Most of the time, lateral epicondylitis is caused from overuse, such as:

  • Repetitive twisting of arm (i.e. using a screwdriver)
  • Typing
  • Painting
  • Lifting

If the injury is left untreated, simple activities such as opening a door or jar, gripping, turning a key, repetitive movements of the wrist or even lifting will become painful and difficult.

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Medial Epicondylitis (Golfer’s Elbow)

Medial epicondylitis, also known as golfer’s elbow, is similar to lateral epicondylitis, but the pain occurs on the inner part of the elbow and may also radiate down the forearm. This happens when the tendons, which connect the muscles of the forearm to the elbow, get inflamed.

Medial epicondylitis is usually caused from overusing the muscles in the forearm, which allows gripping, rotating the arm, and flexing the wrist.

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Olecranon Bursitis

Olecranon bursitis is the inflammation of the small sac of fluid (bursa) found at the back of the elbow. The back of the elbow might get swollen, tender, red and warm to the touch.

Olecranon bursitis is often caused by:

  • Inflammation from repetitive pressure on the bursa or from an inflammatory condition.
  • A blow to the elbow, which causes bleeding or fluid buildup.
  • Infection of the bursa

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Elbow Fracture

There may be different causes to elbow fractures, which include:

  • Falling on a outstretched arm
  • Traumatic injury such as a motor vehicle accident
  • A direct blow on the elbow

The elbow is a very complex joint and sometimes can be “unforgiving” after an injury. The joint may develop certain problems. The way your elbow heals will depend on different factors such as your age, your medical condition and the type of injury sustained.

Following are some of the more common problems related with broken elbows:

  • Stiffness
  • Infection
  • Nonunion or malunion
  • Arthritis
  • Nerve or blood vessel damage

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Elbow Dislocation

An elbow dislocation occurs when one of the bones of the forearm (radius & ulna) becomes separated from the bone of the upper arm (humerus). This is usually caused by a fall on the arm or any traumatic injury such as a motor vehicle accident.

As arteries and nerves run by the elbow, it is possible to cause injury to these during an elbow dislocation. For this reason it is very important to seek medical help after this type of injury.

Symptoms of an elbow dislocation can include:

  • Severe pain in the elbow
  • Swelling and inability to bend the elbow
  • Loss of feeling in hand
  • Unable to feel pulse in wrist

With kids, the radial head subluxation is the main cause of elbow dislocation. This happens when the radial bone has popped out of place.

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Ulnar Nerve Entrapment

The ulnar nerve, also known as the “funny bone”, can be pinched at the inner side of the elbow. This “pinching” is known as ulnar nerve entrapment. With this injury, tingling and numbness of the pinky and middle finger can be felt as well as pain in the entire forearm is possible.

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Can Physiotherapy Help?

Physiotherapists at Pro Care Physiotherapy & Athletes’ Injury Center can help with all elbow conditions after performing a thorough assessment. The treatment may include:

  • Manual therapy to improve movement in your elbow
  • Ultrasound, electrotherapy and/or acupuncture to relieve pain, swelling and promote tissue healing
  • An exercise program including strengthening and stretching to progressively return you to your daily and sporting activities
  • Suggest braces if needed for the injury
  • Massage to promote soft tissue healing and break up of scar tissue

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