Elbow Injuries


The Primary Function and Anatomy of the Elbow 


The elbow joint is a complex hinge joint.  The function of the elbow joint is to extend and flex the forearm in relation to the upper arm, as well as allow rotation of the forearm and wrist.  The muscles around the elbow joint enable the hand to perform skilled, precise motions.  

The elbow joint is made up of muscles, bones, cartilage, ligaments, and tendons.  

  • Bones: The elbow joint includes three bones: the humerus, radius, and ulna.
  • Cartilage: The ends of the bones are covered with cartilage.  This is a smooth substance that allows the bones to glide against each other when bending or extending the elbow. 
  • Ligaments: There are ligaments that hold the bones together and help to form the joint capsule.  There are two main ligaments, the medial collateral ligament, and the lateral collateral ligament, which provide the main source of stability for the elbow.
  • Tendons:  Muscles attach to bones through tendons. Two important tendons in the elbow are the biceps and triceps tendons. 


Common Types of Elbow Injuries Seen in Our Practice


  • Sprains and strains:  A strain is a muscle injury where the muscle is overstretched or torn.  A sprain is a tearing or stretching of a ligament, which is a fibrous tissue connecting two bones.
  • Tendonitis/Tendinosis (Tennis and Golfer’s Elbow):  Tendonitis is an inflammation of the tendon that results from micro-tears that happen when the musculotendinous unit is overloaded.   Tendinosis is a degeneration of the tendon’s collagen response to chronic overuse when no time is given for the tendon to heal and rest.   Many injuries commonly presumed to be tendinitis are actually tendinosis. Tennis and Golfer’s elbow are two common tendon overuse injuries occurring in the elbow. 
  • Little League Elbow:  This is an overuse injury caused by stress to the inside of the elbow along through an open growth plate.  This disorder is most commonly seen in adolescent baseball pitchers but is also seen in other baseball positions, as well as softball and tennis players. 
  • Elbow Bursitis:  Bursas are small sacs of fluid resting between tissues such as muscle, bone, and tendons that are located in different areas of the body and act as cushions.  The olecranon bursa is located at the boney tip of the elbow and is a fairly common area of bursitis with inflammation and fluid accumulation.    


How is the Cause of Elbow Pain Diagnosed?


First and most important is a good thorough medical history intake and a physical exam. 

Imaging tests can also help with the diagnosis.

  • X-Ray:  X-rays use radiation in the form of electromagnetic waves of high energy to pass to create pictures of the inside of your body.  X-rays show bones well and can help us identify things such as fractures. It is also very helpful in identifying things such as dislocations.  It can also help us identify signs of osteoarthritis.  
  • MRI Scan: MRI scans use large magnets and radio waves to look at structures inside your body with great detail. It is a helpful imaging study to visualize soft tissues such as muscles and ligaments, as well as give an additional evaluation of bones.
  • CT Scan: A CT scan is an imaging tool that combines x-rays with computer technology to produce a detailed cross-sectional image of your body.  In our field, it is sometimes helpful for further evaluation of bony structures.
  • Ultrasound: Ultrasound uses high-frequency sound waves that echo off the body.  It is a non-invasive study that does not use any radiation. It is used in-office to help with the diagnosis of some musculoskeletal conditions.

Ultrasound Cause of Elbow Pain Diagnosed Stephen S. Chen, MD


Treatment for Elbow Injuries


There are many treatment options for elbow pain. However, the treatment option varies depending on multiple factors such as age, injury, medical history, etc.

  • RICE therapy: RICE is a form of self-treatment or can be done under the guidance of trained physiotherapists. RICE stands for Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. This therapy can help improve the pain and swelling of many elbow injuries. 
  • Heat therapy:  Heat can help relax tense muscles and soothe a stiff elbow.  You can use a heated pad or hot water bottle. 
  • Physical therapy: Manual therapy and a special exercise routine planned by a physiotherapist, keeping the condition of the patient in mind, can help strengthen the elbow muscles and improve their flexibility.

Physical Therapy - Treatment for elbow pain and Injuries - Stephen S. Chen, MD

  • Medication:  Over the counter medications such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen can help ease the pain.  Stronger pain medications and muscle relaxers can also be of help temporarily.
  • Steroid injections: Steroid injections, usually in conjunction with physical therapy, can be helpful to reduce inflammation and overall pain. 
  • Surgery: If conservative treatment does not work, surgery may be needed.  Sometimes surgery needs to be considered sooner depending on the injury itself.


Stephen S. Chen, MD- Sports Medicine Doctor can help you evaluate and treat your elbow injury and pain. Contact us using our phone number 925-934-3536 or email us at stephen.chen@eastbaysportsdoc.com to book an appointment.