Elbow Injuries

Tennis elbow. Golfer’s elbow. Elbow bursitis. Clearly, in the sports world, the elbow has it rough. That’s why our sports medicine experts at Henry Ford have spent decades researching and studying injuries commonly suffered by throwing athletes. In fact, Henry Ford Health System staff members have conducted and published some of the most definitive research for patients requiring advanced elbow treatment, especially Tommy John Surgery. So if you’re suffering from elbow pain, and it’s disrupting your game, our top-rated orthopedic specialists can help you heal to peak performance.

Common elbow injuries

  • Elbow bursitis

    Elbow bursitis occurs in the olecranon bursa - a thin, fluid-filled sac located at the tip of the elbow. The bursa should be flat and contain a small amount of lubricating fluid as it is intended to act as a cushion between bones and soft tissue, such as skin. However, should the bursa become irritated or inflamed, extra fluid will accumulate in the bursa causing bursitis to develop. Sports with repetitive motions, such as tennis or golf, are more likely to cause elbow bursitis.

    Symptoms

    • Swelling
    • Pain
    • Elbow becomes red and warm to the touch

    Average recovery time

    Varies depending upon treatment options, typically 2 to 8 weeks.

  • Tennis elbow

    Tennis elbow is the painful result of tendons in your elbow becoming overloaded, usually by repetitive motions of your arm or wrist. Sports with repetitive motion, such as tennis or golf, are more likely to cause tennis elbow.

    Symptoms

    • Pain that radiates from the outside of the elbow into the forearm or wrist

    Average recovery time

    6 weeks

  • Golfer’s elbow

    Golfer’s elbow is a condition that causes pain where the tendons of your forearm attach to the bony protuberance on the inside of the elbow. It is possible for the pain to spread into your forearm and wrist, as well. Sports with repetitive motion, such as golf, tennis, javelin throwing or weight training, are more likely to cause golfer’s elbow. Improper motions, such as improper pitching techniques in baseball or softball, can also cause golfer’s elbow.

    Symptoms

    • Pain and tenderness on the inside of the elbow
    • Stiffness
    • Weakness
    • Numbing or tingling

    Average recovery time

    Four to six weeks for non-severe cases, up to six months for severe cases.

  • UCL injuries (Tommy John)

    inside of the forearm. UCL injuries, also known as a Tommy John injury, is typically the result of repetitive stress damages to the inside of the elbow that eventually compromises stability. UCL injuries are most common in “overhead” throwing sports, such as volleyball or baseball.

    Symptoms

    • Soreness/tightness around the inside of the elbow
    • Instability at your elbow joint
    • Minor swelling or bruising along the inside of the arm

    Average recovery time

    Recovery can vary from six months to one year, dependent upon severity and treatment. If tear is significant enough, surgery is often required.

When to see a doctor

Elbow pain often arises slowly with repetitive motions in sports like tennis and baseball, but over time, symptoms can become debilitating. If the pain prevents you from playing to your potential or moving your arm during daily activities, consult a physician.

See a doctor immediately if your elbow pain is due to a sudden impact or if it’s accompanied by:

  • Swelling
  • Bruising
  • Redness
  • Tingling
  • Numbness
  • Recurrent pain with activity

Request an appointment with an orthopedic specialist

How we treat elbow injuries

When an athlete comes to Henry Ford for elbow treatment, our primary goals are to relieve pain and improve function.

For most patients, the road to recovery begins with a physical exam by one of our sports medicine physicians who will identify the cause and location of your pain, diagnose your injury and outline a customized treatment plan to restore your elbow to full health. An X-Ray, MRI or CT scan may help a physician determine which course of action is right for you and your injury.

Treatment options

  • Non-Surgical Treatment

    R.I.C.E. method (Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation) — When an elbow injury first occurs, patients should rest the affected area to prevent further injury from occurring; ice it to reduce pain and compress it to reduce swelling.

    Physical Therapy — Many elbow injuries can be treated with physical therapy, either on its own or in conjunction with surgery. For recovering patients, Henry Ford’s rehabilitation team takes a multidisciplinary approach, combining exercise and strength training with manual therapy at more than 20 outpatient facilities across southeast and south central Michigan.

    Anti-inflammatory medication — Over-the-counter drugs such as Tylenol, Advil, Motrin, and Aleve can often help reduce elbow pain from minor sprains and aid in initial recovery.

  • Surgical Treatment

    Elbow Arthroscopy — If necessary, conditions such as Tennis Elbow, Golfer’s Elbow, OCD lesions, and loose bodies of the elbow can be treated with arthroscopy. During the procedure, a small camera allows a surgeon to diagnose and repair issues inside the elbow joint.

    Elbow Replacement — If serious trauma has occurred to the elbow—especially if the elbow has shattered—an elbow replacement may be necessary. Much like a knee or hip replacement, an elbow replacement is performed by removing the damaged parts of the elbow and replacing them with artificial structures.

    Tommy John Surgery (UCL ligament reconstruction) — For overhead athletes and particularly pitchers are prone to injuries to the UCL of the elbow. This can come on with one single throw or more commonly from repeated throwing activities. If this ligament is injured and does not heal with non-operative management, we will recreate the ligament using tissue from your wrist or leg.

Be seen in 24 hours

Team physicians for pros, colleges, high schools – and you