If your elbow pain is severe or persistent, it’s important to see the specialists at Illinois SW Orthopedics for diagnosis and treatment. The inability to carry objects or use your arm, elbow pain that happens while resting, the ability to straighten your arm as well as swelling, bruising and signs of an infection like fever and redness, all mean something’s not right and assistance may be needed.
At Illinois SW Orthopedics, we commonly treat these elbow conditions:
- Tendonitis – including tennis elbow and golfer’s elbow
Our orthopedic team will begin the diagnosis of your elbow pain in the clinic by talking to you about your medical history and symptoms. Following a physical examination, additional imaging tests such as an X-ray or MRI may be ordered for you.
Treatment of elbow pain may vary depending on the cause of your pain. The most important treatment for most elbow conditions is rest which will allow any inflammation to subside. Ice packs are also commonly used to treat pain. Stretching and wearing a brace can also assist to east tension on tendons that connect muscles to your elbow bone. Medications, cortisone injections, physical therapy and in some cases, surgery, may all be called on to help you find relief from your symptoms and pain.
At the back of the elbow is the olecranon, the pointy part of your elbow. It’s covered by the olecranon bursa. The bursa is a think, fluid-filled sac that allows your skin to move smoothly over your elbow when you bend or straighten your arm. If the bursa becomes irritated or swollen and inflamed, it causes elbow bursitis or olecranon bursitis. Acute or sudden bursitis is usually caused by a result of trauma, infection or gout. Chronic bursitis is usually due to repetitive overage or inflammatory arthritis.
Bursitis symptoms include swelling at the back of the elbow. Pain at the back of the elbow will be made worse with bending, touching or applying pressure to the elbow. You may also experience redness and warmth, fever or a lesion on the skin from the entry point of the infection. Getting help from the experts at Illinois SW Orthopedics when symptoms first appear will help alleviate the pain and inflammation of the elbow.
Care for bursitis varies depending on the cause. If bursitis is not caused by an infection, treatment includes resting/limiting the use of your elbow, application of ice packs for 20 minutes at least every two hours, application of a compression bandage, elevation of your arm about your heart to reduce swelling and medications such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatories to reduce swelling and pain. Your care team may recommend a splint or brace your elbow when performing repetitive tasks. If your bursitis is caused by an infection, antibiotics will be necessary.
If these actions do not relieve your pain or the pain returns, your provider may remove some of the fluid in the bursa. This is called aspiration. A needle is inserted into the bursa and a syringe withdraws the fluid. Your doctor may also recommend corticosteroid injections to reduce the pain and swelling.
Orthopedic specialists at Illinois SW Orthopedics may recommend surgery if your bursitis treatment isn’t effective in reducing pain and swelling. The procedure, called a bursectomy is performed with local anesthesia. The surgeon makes an incision in the skin at the back of the elbow and removes the bursa. While your elbow heals, you will need to wear a splint for protection. Full recovery and use of the elbow usually takes 3-4 weeks and a new bursa will regrow after a few months.
Tendons are tough, fibrous tissues that connect muscles to bones. When they become irritated, inflamed or torn, the condition is caused tendonitis. There are two forms of tendonitis in the elbow – lateral epicondylitis and medial epicondylitis. Both tend to be caused by either overuse or overload.
Medial epicondylitis, sometimes known Golfer’s Elbow, causes pain on the inner side of the elbow. It can occur as a sports injury, such as repeatedly swinging a golf club or throwing a baseball, or from work-related repeated elbow movements found in construction work.
Lateral epicondylitis, also known as tennis elbow, is a type of tendonitis that includes inflammation, pain and tenderness of the tendons on the lateral or outside of the elbow. Tendons can become irritated due to activities stressing the forearm, elbow or wrist. While activities like tennis, racquetball or weightlifting are common causes of tennis elbow, any repetitive gripping, typing or fine motor activity that uses the forearm, wrist or hand can cause tennis elbow.
The quicker you have your tendonitis treated, the sooner you’ll regain full strength and flexibility. Ice packs for 20 minutes several times a day, use of anti-inflammatory medications, rest and temporary user of a split, brace or sling should help in relieving pain, swelling, weakness and tenderness of the elbow. Your specialist may inject a corticosteroid drug into the affected tendon. Or, your team may recommend physical therapy, heat or water therapy to improve joint mobility.
If all the steps above do not alleviate your elbow pain and inflammation, surgery may be recommended. Arthroscopic surgery may be used and includes the surgeon making a few tiny cuts in the skin over your elbow. Very small instruments and a camera go into the holes and the surgeon removes the damaged parts of your tendon followed by the reattachment of the healthy tendons to the elbow bone. In another approach, a cut is made in the affected area, and the degenerated tendon sheaths are trimmed slightly, instead of removing them totally. Following surgery, you may go home the same day or, in some cases, kept under observation for a day in the hospital.
When you return home, you will need to wear a splint around the elbow to protect your incision. Stitches and dressing are removed in the next follow-up visit. While you recover, your orthopedic specialist may recommend rehabilitation exercises to regain mobility. Most patients return to work in 3 weeks to one and a half months. Normal routines and sports activities are allowed 3-6 months after surgery.