Relieving elbow pain caused by tennis elbow, golfer’s elbow, and other conditions
We depend on our elbows for many activities, from swinging a tennis racket or golf club to simply brushing our hair. Elbow conditions can put a stop to all of that.
We want you to live free from elbow pain. If you have an elbow condition, our joint specialists will provide treatment options to relieve the pain and improve your function.
Elbow conditions and treatments
Two elbow conditions our doctors treat regularly are golfer’s elbow and tennis elbow. But our joint specialists offer treatment options for a range of elbow conditions.
Depending on your condition, you may be a candidate for one of the following treatment options:
- Distal bicep tendon repair
- Elbow arthroscopy
- Ulnar nerve transposition
Golfer’s elbow also is known as medial epicondylitis. This condition is what we call an overuse injury. Most people with golfer’s elbow develop the condition by overusing the forearm muscles, which let you grip items, rotate the arm, and flex your wrist. Overuse can cause tears in the tendons that connect the muscles to bone.
Who is at risk for golfer’s elbow?
Despite the name, golfers aren’t the only ones who can develop golfer’s elbow. We treat golfer’s elbow in people who play many different sports, including:
- Racket sports, like tennis and racquetball
- Throwing sports, like baseball and football (in fact, golfer’s elbow is sometimes called pitcher’s elbow)
And the condition isn’t limited to athletes. People who have jobs that require repeated wrist-twisting are at risk. Some work activities that can lead to golfer’s elbow include:
- Long periods of computer use
- Using hammers or screwdrivers
- Working on an assembly line
Symptoms of golfer’s elbow
Elbow pain is the main symptom of golfer’s elbow. This pain may radiate into the forearm to the wrist. Other symptoms may include pain when flexing the wrist or numbness from the elbow to the pinky and ring fingers.
Golfer’s elbow treatment
Rest is the main treatment we recommend for golfer’s elbow. You’ll need to avoid or minimize the activities that injured your elbow for two to three weeks while you heal. Icepacks and anti-inflammatory medications can ease the pain.
If your golfer’s elbow was caused by playing sports, you may be able to avoid future injuries by improving your technique. Our sports medicine professionals can help you with conditioning and injury-prevention tips.
We may recommend surgery if these treatment methods don’t work. Your doctor will help you decide if surgery is right for you.
Tennis elbow also is known as later epicondylitis. Most people with tennis elbow develop it by overusing the muscles of the forearm, which allow you to grip items, rotate the arm, and flex the wrist. Overuse can cause tears in the tendons that connect the forearm muscles to the bone.
Who is at risk for tennis elbow?
Tennis elbow is most common in people who play tennis or other sports that use a racket. Backhand strokes are more likely to cause tennis elbow than others. Some other racket sports that can contribute to tennis elbow include:
- Table tennis
You can be at risk for tennis elbow with many activities that involve repetitive movement of the elbow, wrist, or hand. Some examples of workers or athletes who may be at risk include:
- Assembly-line workers
- Baseball players
Symptoms of tennis elbow
The main symptom of tennis elbow is elbow pain and tenderness. This pain tends to get worse over time, and it may radiate into the upper or lower arm.
Tennis elbow pain may get worse when you:
- Grip objects, like a tennis racket, or make a fist
- Lift objects
- Twist the wrist, such as opening a door or shaking hands
Tennis elbow treatment
We first recommend rest to give your elbow a chance to heal. You’ll need to avoid the activities that caused your tennis elbow for two to three weeks. Icepacks and anti-inflammatory medications can help relieve the pain.
If your tennis elbow was caused by playing sports, improving your technique may minimize the risk of future injuries. Our sports medicine team can give you tips about changes to your form, conditioning improvements, or different equipment that may be able to help.
If these treatments don’t work, we may recommend surgery to correct tennis elbow. There are two main surgeries we perform for tennis elbow. One involves trimming the affected tendon, and the other involves releasing the tendon and reattaching it to the bone. You and your doctor will discuss your options and decide on the right course of action.
Distal biceps tendon repair
The biceps muscle is in the front of the upper arm. This muscle helps you bend the elbow and rotate the forearm. It also helps keep your shoulder stable.
The distal biceps tendon attaches this muscle to bones in the elbow. A tear in this tendon can cause a loss of strength in the arm and a lack of ability to turn the forearm.
How do I know if I have a biceps tendon tear?
During an examination, your doctor will search for a gap in the tendon by feeling the front of the elbow. The doctor will give you a resistance test to measure the strength of the forearm. You may also need imaging tests to diagnose a tear and determine whether you need surgery to correct it.
Distal biceps tendon surgery
We use several techniques to repair distal biceps tendon tears. The approach your doctor uses will depend on your specific circumstance and the doctor’s specialty. We’ll discuss your options with you before surgery and help you make the best decision possible.
Arthroscopy is a minimally invasive procedure our joint surgeons use to examine and repair joint problems. In an elbow arthroscopy, your surgeon uses special equipment to look inside the elbow joint and treat many different conditions.
How does elbow arthroscopy work?
During an elbow arthroscopy, your surgeon makes a small incision in the skin and inserts a tool called an arthroscope. The arthroscope is about the width of a pencil or a drinking straw. Your surgeon positions the arthroscope to see inside your elbow with the help of a light and video camera attached to the arthroscope.
Your surgeon will make additional small incisions in the skin to insert small surgical instruments if we need to correct an elbow condition during your elbow arthroscopy.
Conditions we treat with elbow arthroscopy
Some examples of conditions our surgeons treat with elbow arthroscopy include:
- Elbow fractures
- Removal of bone spurs, calcium deposits, scar tissue, etc.
- Tennis elbow
Ulnar nerve transposition
Ulnar nerve transposition is a procedure our surgeons use to treat a condition called cubital tunnel syndrome.
What is cubital tunnel syndrome?
Cubital tunnel syndrome, also known as ulnar nerve entrapment, is when the ulnar nerve is compressed or pinched. The ulnar nerve goes from the neck down into the hand. This nerve can get pinched at several places along the arm, but the most common place is the elbow.
What causes cubital tunnel syndrome?
There are many reasons cubital tunnel syndrome can develop, but it usually arises because of too much pressure on the area where the ulnar nerve travels along the elbow. Some of the many ways this can happen include:
- Keeping the elbow bent for long periods of time, such as during sleep
- Leaning on the elbow for long periods of time
- A direct blow to the elbow (commonly known as “hitting the funny bone”)
Elbow fractures and rheumatoid arthritis can also lead to cubital tunnel syndrome.
What are the symptoms of cubital tunnel syndrome?
Though cubital tunnel syndrome can cause aching pain in the elbow, most symptoms of the condition actually appear in the hand. These symptoms may include:
- A numb or tingling feeling in the ring and pinky fingers
- Difficulty moving these fingers or feeling like they’ve “fallen asleep”
- Weakened grip
- Loss of finger coordination, such as when typing
Ulnar nerve transposition to treat cubital tunnel syndrome
If your doctor diagnoses you with cubital tunnel syndrome, your treatment will start with avoiding the activities that caused the condition in the first place. You may also need to perform exercises to prevent stiffness in your arm and wrist.
If nonsurgical treatment doesn’t work, ulnar nerve transposition may be a good option for you. During this procedure, your surgeon will move the ulnar nerve to a new position, which will prevent it from being compressed when you bend your elbow.
After your ulnar nerve transposition, you’ll probably be able to go home the same day. We occasionally recommend patients stay overnight in the hospital for observation after the surgery.