The Most Common Elbow Injury,
And How To Prevent It


Elbow pain is most commonly caused by injuries. Some people may not remember a specific injury, especially if symptoms developed gradually or during daily activities. Review the structure and function of the elbow to gain a better understanding of elbow injuries. Take a look at a picture of the elbow.

The following activities are the most common causes of elbow injuries:

    • Sports or recreational activities are two examples.
    • Tasks related to the job
    • Work or home improvement projects
    • Falls

Most elbow injuries in children occur during sports or play, and are often the result of accidental falls. The risk for injury is higher when your child participates in contact sports such as wrestling, football, soccer; high-speed activities like biking, skating, ice skating, skiing, snowboarding, skateboarding. Elbows, forearms, wrists , hands , and fingers are all susceptible to any type of injury near a joint which may injure their growing end (growth plate) that needs to be evaluated should an older adult sustain one.


Sudden (acute) injury

A direct blow, penetrating injury, or fall, as well as abnormal twisting, jerking, jamming, or bending of the elbow, can cause an acute injury. Pain can come on suddenly and be excruciating. Soon after the injury, bruising and swelling may appear. The following are examples of acute injuries:

    • Bruises caused by the rupture or tearing of small blood vessels beneath the skin.
    • Ligaments, the ropy fibers that connect bones to bones around joints, are injured.
    • Tendon injuries are injuries to the tendons that connect muscles to bones.
    • Sprains are joint injuries that stretch or tear ligaments.
    • Overstretching muscles causes pulled muscles (strains).
    • Muscle tears or ruptures in the upper arm, such as the biceps or triceps.
    • At the elbow joint, broken bones (fractures) of the upper arm bone (humerus) or forearm bones (ulna or radius).
    • Elbow dislocations are a common occurrence (out of its normal position).


Overuse injuries

Overuse injuries occur when a joint or other tissue is subjected to excessive stress, often as a result of overdoing or repetition of an activity. The following are examples of overuse injuries:

    • Bursitis. Olecranon bursitis can cause swelling behind the elbow (Popeye elbow).
    • Tendinosis is a condition in which the connective tissue in or around the tendon develops a series of microtears.
    • Tennis elbow is a soreness or pain on the outside (lateral) part of the elbow (lateral epicondylitis). This is the most common type of elbow tendinopathy, and it is usually caused by overuse of the forearm muscles. Overuse can occur in sports like tennis, swimming, golf, and throwing sports; in jobs like carpentry or plumbing; or in everyday activities like lifting objects or gardening.
    • Golfer’s elbow is characterized by soreness or pain in the inner (medial) part of the elbow. Little Leaguer’s elbow is a term used to describe the same elbow pain experienced by children who participate in throwing sports.
    • Nerve compression, such as ulnar nerve compression, occurs when the ulnar nerve is pinched near the elbow joint. This usually happens when you make the same motions over and over.


Pain, redness, swelling, warmth, fever, chills, pus, or swollen lymph nodes in the armpit on that side of your body are all symptoms of an infection of the elbow. A “shooter’s abscess” is an infection that occurs when people inject illegal drugs into their arm veins.

Abuse of the elbow can result in bruises, burns, fractures, cuts, or punctures. When an injury cannot be explained or does not match the explanation, when injuries occur repeatedly, or when the explanations for the cause of the injury change, suspect possible abuse.


How can an elbow injury be prevented?

    • Stretching before and after participating in an activity.
    • Limiting the use of arm muscles to those that are not injured or strained, so they can heal more quickly.
    • Avoiding repetitive motions such as touching your nose with one hand while holding something heavy with the other arm. This will cause overuse injuries like tennis elbow, golfer’s elbow, “Little Leaguer’s” elbow (pitching), and ulnar nerve compression syndrome.
    • Padding surfaces for falls on hard floors or ground; wearing protective gear when appropriate (helmets)
    • Wearing a brace if you have had previous injury to that joint area and it is weak / unstable due to ligament damage). Putting ice packs on bruises or sprains for 15-20 minutes.
    • Using a heat pack on muscles that are strained or tight, if they have not been used in the last 24 hours.
    • Preventing elbow injuries is the best way to avoid an injury. But what if you already have one? Well, it’s not too late for some prevention – just keep these tips in mind so that your elbow can heal in a timely manner. If you’re struggling with how to treat your current injury, contact us! We’ll help give you advice and set up a plan of action to get back on track as soon as possible.


We know how frustrating it can be to deal with an elbow injury. It’s not just painful, but it also takes a toll on your quality of life. So if you are looking for some relief, contact us today and we will help get you back in the game!

Are You Looking for Non-Surgical
Relief from an Elbow Injury?


Dr. Chen sees patients at Saint Francis Memorial Hospital Center for Sports Medicine in Walnut Creek, California. He is a board certified Pediatrician and Sports Medicine Doctor that specializes in the non-operative medical treatment of a wide variety of various musculoskeletal conditions.  Dr. Chen graduated from St. George’s University School of Medicine and went on to complete Pediatric residency training at the University of Medicine and Dentistry in New Jersey (Rutgers), then went on to fellowship training in Sports Medicine at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, one of the perennially top ranked children’s hospitals in the nation. There he provided sideline coverage for NCAA Division I athletics at the University of Cincinnati and Miami University (OH). Since graduating, Dr. Chen has continued his love of sports coverage by volunteering for the San Francisco Marathon, the San Francisco Giant Race, and as the team physician for Northgate High School in Walnut Creek. Being a part of The Center for Sports Medicine allows Dr. Chen quick access to a multidisciplinary team of orthopedic surgeons, podiatrists, physiatrists, and physical therapists to return you to your highest functional level quickly and safely. Click here to contact us for your next appointment!


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