As with most other body parts, injuries to the elbow are usually caused by either overuse or acute injury. Overuse injuries to the elbow are common in people that repetitively use their arms for work, such as manual labourers and tradespeople, or for sport, such as tennis players and golfers. Acute injuries to the elbow are less common, however can occur in some situations such as during contact sports, by falling on an outstretched arm, or by some other physical accident.
Your physiotherapist will be able to diagnose the precise causes of your symptoms and provide the most appropriate treatment to fix the problem and prevent it from reoccurring.
Common Elbow Conditions
Tennis Elbow & Golfers Elbow (Lateral & Medial Epicondylalgia)
These two are similar, common injuries that cause pain on either side of the elbow. The pain is often present during gripping tasks or when flexing/extending/twisting the wrist and fingers. The pain results from microscopic damage to the muscles and tendons of the forearm, which attach onto the elbow. A number of factors can contribute to these conditions including weakness, tightness and poor joint mechanics.
Elbow bursitis refers to an inflamed elbow bursa. A bursa is a fluid filled sac that aims to reduce friction between your bones, muscle and tendons. The most commonly affected in the elbow region is the olecranon bursa, which sits near the bony point of your elbow. Symptoms are gradual onset of pain over weeks or months, and sometimes the bursa can swell up to form are large prominent fluid lump.
Sometimes pain at the elbow is actually due to referred pain from the neck or shoulder. When assessing you, your physiotherapist will be able to spot specific indicators that your elbow pain is the result of an issue in the neck or shoulder, and then test for this accordingly.
Acute injuries occur as the result of overloading the tissues around the elbow in a sudden direct traumatic event. These include fractures, dislocations, ligament sprains and muscle strains. The treatment will vary depending on the specific location and severity of the injury, and will sometimes require a referral to an orthopaedic specialist.
After a detailed assessment and a discussion regarding your goals for physiotherapy, treatment can begin. Often the initial stages of treatment will involve hands on manual therapy such as soft tissue releases and mobilisations that are useful for pain relief, restoring joint ranges of motion and freeing overly tight muscles and tendons.
Following this your physiotherapist will gradually introduce to you specific exercises including stretching, strengthening and mobility exercises, all individually tailored to reinforce the hands on work and restore normal function as quickly as possible. Depending on the injury, your physiotherapist may also use taping techniques or braces to protect the elbow or restrict certain movements in order to allow healing.
Treatment will not just be limited to the elbow, but may include the wrist, hand, shoulder, neck and even the upper back, as all of these areas can influence the elbow. Your personalised physiotherapy program will be gradually progressed to the level of function you need, whether it be for high level sport or just normal everyday use.