Kellie K. Middleton, MD

Common Causes of Elbow Pain

Jan 20, 2022
Common Causes of Elbow Pain
Elbow pain is the discomforting pain you feel around the elbow joint, commonly caused by straining of the tendons or inflamed tissue around the elbow...

Elbow pain is the discomforting pain you feel around the elbow joint, commonly caused by straining of the tendons or inflamed tissue around the elbow.

Several reasons can lead to elbow pain. The pain can be on the outside, inside, or at the backside of the elbow. Most people, however, don’t realize the cause of this pain. A patient may require thorough history, physical examination, and X-ray to help in diagnosis. In some cases, you may need an MRI scan to help confirm the diagnosis to develop a treatment plan.

Elbow pain can be painful, and one may be tempted to get some painkillers to ease that pain. However, it is advisable to see a professional doctor who will help you determine what is causing your elbow pain. 

It can be caused by several reasons. In this guide, we will highlight common causes of elbow pain. 

Let’s dive in!

Elbow Arthritis

Elbow Arthritis, also known as osteoarthritis is the wear and tear of the joint. It can be caused by overloading the elbow or a throwing athlete. Elbow arthritis can be painful and thus affects your daily tasks that involve the arm.


These are the common symptoms of elbow arthritis.

  • Pain
  • Limitation in motion or stiffness interfering with daily activities such as work, job, or sports
  • Inability to straighten your arm
  • Numbness and tingling shooting down from the elbow into the hand
  • Arm swelling

Elbow Arthritis Treatment

Elbow treatment can be done in a variety of ways. This includes rest, anti-inflammatory medication, or occasional injection.

Surgery may be necessary when the symptoms are severe. It helps you regain the lost motion and relieve the pain in your elbow. Besides, cutting down some activities like sports can help speed up the recovery process

Elbow Bursitis

Also known as the olecranon, elbow bursitis occurs on the tip of the elbow. It is a small fluid sac that sits over the bone. This fluid lubricates the joint and allows them to move smoothly.

When the fluid sac is injured, it becomes inflamed causing pain, stiffness, and swelling around the joint. 

Elbow bursitis is caused by a hard blow on your elbow or leaning your elbow tip against a hard surface for a long time.


  • Swelling of the elbow
  • Elbow pain. When the swelling begins, the bursa begins to stretch, hence causing the pain
  • Movement of the arm becomes difficult
  • Fever
  • Elbow skin turns red

Bursitis Treatment

The doctor may recommend some antibiotics or remove the fluid from the elbow using a syringe. If this doesn’t work, surgery may be performed to remove the bursa. 

To heal bursitis at home, you will need to rest the joint. Avoid straining or placing your elbow joint against a hard surface for a long period of time.

Wrapping a cold iced towel around your elbow skin for 15 – 20 minutes can help relieve the pain and prevent nerve damage.

You can also try to take a warm shower to help reduce the stiffness around your elbow. To avoid further injuries, you should use warm water and not hot water.

Elbow Sprains

Elbow sprains are caused by an over-extension and a quick twist of the elbow. This can cause damage to the ligament around your elbow causing pain. In some cases, an Elbow sprain can be mild, moderate, or severe.


  • Difficulty in bending or straightening your elbow
  • Pain around the elbow
  • Swelling around the elbow joint
  • Bruises around the joint area
  • Tearing in the elbow

Elbow Sprains Treatment

An orthopedic specialist can examine the injury and recommend “RICE” instructions for aftercare treatment to help reduce the pain and swelling.

The “RICE” instructions are:

  • Resting your elbow and avoid lifting with your arm and elbow.
  • Ice your elbow for around 15-20 minutes to reduce the swelling.
  • Compress the elbow area with an elastic bandage to reduce the swelling.
  • Elevate the elbow by placing it on a pillow or above your knee to reduce the pain.

Tennis Elbow

Tennis elbow pain starts on the outer part of the elbow to the forearm. It is also known as lateral epicondylitis. Just as the name suggests, people who play tennis often suffer from tennis elbow pain. Muscle movements can cause ligament tears that can even lead to bleeding.


  • Pain around the outer part of the elbow
  • Tenderness on the outer part of the elbow
  • Elbow pain when gripping objects such as a pen or a cup of tea
  • Pain on the forearm, for example, when twisting a door handle
  • Stiffness when extending your arm

Tennis Elbow Treatment

In most cases, tennis elbow gets better with self-treatment. Most of the pain takes 6 to 12 months with at least 90% of the patients healing after a year.

One of the best self-treatment care is less straining of the arm when resting. Holding an ice cube wrapped in a towel could also help relieve the pain around the elbow. Painkillers, Non- steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can also help reduce elbow pain.

In some severe cases, massaging and manipulating the affected area can help manage the pain around the elbow. This process is also known as physiotherapy. It also helps in blood circulation around the arm.


Elbow pain can be painful if not treated on time. To many people, it starts as minor pain. Since the arm does a lot of movement, the elbow pain might become severe. 

Do you experience frequent elbow pain? If so, consult a medical doctor to determine the cause of the pain. 

The most common treatment for elbow pain is rest, physical therapy, medication to reduce the pain, or surgery.  A professional doctor, like an orthopedic surgeon, will advise on what treatment best fits you.