Elbow injuries can be an affliction for any type of patient, whether it is an injury to the funny bone (humerus) or a more serious sports-related elbow injury. Acute injuries can occur in sports or in relation to accidents, and, there are more chronic injuries that gradually develop over time, usually due to overuse in some sport work-related activity.
The elbow is the point at which three arm bones meet. The upper arm bone, humerus, and the two lower arm bones called the he radius and ulna. It is a combination pivot and hinge joint, where the hinge lets the arm bend and straighten, and the pivot part allows the arm to twist and rotate. Thetwo joints of the elbow the humeroradial joint formed where the radius bone and humerus bone meet and the proximal radioulnar joint where the radius bone (thumb side) and ulna bone (little finger side) meet.
Common Elbow Injuries
Elbow Flexor Tendinitis
Repeated flexing of the arm can cause irritation and inflammation to the flexor and pronator tendons, particularly in the site where they are attached to the humerus. This will cause pain on the inner side of the elbow, during use and also during rest periods.
An ulnar collateral ligament injury (UCL) can range from minor damage to inflammation and a complete tear of the ligament. Pain will occur on the inside of the elbow and will affect the ability with which an athlete can use their arm.
Elbow Valgus Extension Overload (VEO)
When used for throwing, the olecranon and humerus bones are twisted and forced against each other. Over long periods of time, this can cause VEO, where the protective cartilage wears away and the bone develops abnormal overgrowth, known as bone spurs. The symptoms of this are swelling and pain at the sites of maximum contact between the two bones.
Elbow Olecranon Stress Fracture
This occurs when a muscle becomes fatigued and cannot withstand or absorb shock, causing any overload of shock to be transferred to the bone, the result of which can be a tiny crack, known as a stress fracture.
The olecranon fracture is most often seen in athletes that depend on recurrent use of this joint, most likely throwers. The fracture will cause an aching pain on the underside of the elbow, which will worsen with use. The pain can also be felt during periods where the elbow is not in use.
Elbow Ulnar Neuritis
The ulnar nerve stretches over the end of the humerus bone whenever the elbow is bent, and when this nerve is stretched repeatedly, it can slip out of place, causing a painful snapping. When this occurs on more than one occasion, it leads to nerve irritation, known as Ulnar Neuritis.
Athletes or those who use the bending and straightening motion repeatedly will often experience a sensation similar to an electric shock beginning in the inner elbow and passing all the way down the arm. Symptoms such as numbness, tingling or pain can be experienced in the fingers, when the joint is in use or even during periods of rest.
Those who suffer from Ulnar Neuritis and are not athletes can experience the pain first thing in the morning or after extended periods of time where the elbow is bent.
It is rare that any of these conditions will occur in non-athletes as they are most often the result of overuse and stress.
Learn more about elbow injuries and disorders on the Orthopedic and Sports Medicine Institute (OSMI) website.