Pain - elbow
This article describes aching or other discomfort in the elbow that is not related to direct injury.
Elbow pain can be caused by many problems. A common cause in adults is tendinitis. This is inflammation and injury to the tendons, which are soft tissues that attach muscle to bone.
People who play racquet sports are most likely to injure the tendons on the outside of the elbow. This condition is commonly called tennis elbow. Golfers are more likely to injure the tendons on the inside of the elbow.
Other common causes of elbow tendinitis are gardening, playing baseball, using a screwdriver, or overusing your wrist and arm.
Young children commonly develop "nursemaid's elbow," usually when someone is pulling on their straightened arm. The bones are stretched apart momentarily and a ligament slips in between. It becomes trapped when the bones try to snap back into place. Children will usually quietly refuse to use the arm, but often cry out when they try to bend or straighten the elbow. This condition is also called an elbow subluxation (a partial dislocation).
Other common causes of elbow pain are:
Dr. Alan Greene explains causes of tennis elbow and how to treat it.
Gently try to move the elbow and increase your range of motion. If this hurts or you cannot move the elbow, call your health care provider.
Call your doctor or nurse if:
Your health care provider will examine you and carefully check your elbow. You will be asked questions about your medical history and symptoms such as:
Treatment depends on the cause, but may involve:
Kane SF, Lynch JH, Taylor JC. Evaluation of elbow pain in adults. Am Fam Physician. 2014;89:649-657.
Regan WD, Morrey BF. Physical examination of the elbow. In: Morrey BF, Sanchez-Sotelo J, eds. The Elbow and Its Disorders. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2004:chap 4.
Last reviewed on: 9/8/2014
Reviewed by: C. Benjamin Ma, MD, Assistant Professor, Chief, Sports Medicine and Shoulder Service, UCSF Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, San Francisco, CA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.