A common cause of elbow pain occurs from repetitive recreational or work activities using the forearm. For example, tennis elbow or lateral epicondylitis and golfer’s elbow or medial epicondylitis are two common complaints that produce elbow problems and limit activities with the injured arm. Osteoarthritis is discussed as a condition that results from repetitive or significant prior elbow injuries. This article discusses the onset, diagnosis and chiropractic treatment of three elbow conditions.
What Causes Elbow Pain?
Repetitive activity is a common cause of elbow pain. This action stresses the attachment of the tendons at the elbow. If the pain is at the outside of the elbow it’s called tennis elbow or lateral epicondylitis. The pain can extend from the elbow down into the forearm and even the wrist. Examples of causes of tennis elbow or lateral epicondylitis are:
- Use of a hand held screw driver
- Turning and Straining – Opening a door handle or door knob
- Holding and Carrying a Heavy Object – With the elbow bent at 90°
- Repetitive Twisting with the Forearm – Strains the outside of the elbow such as starting a lawn mower or snow blower
Pain that is located at the inside of the elbow is called golfer’s elbow or medial epicondylitis. This may occur from repetition or sudden trauma stressing the tendon. The pain from this condition begins at the elbow and can extend down into the hand. Examples of activities that cause golfer’s elbow are:
- Similar Activities as Those Causing Tennis Elbow
- Golfing, Swinging a Bat or Racket
- Lifting an Object with the Palm of the Hand Facing Down
- Squeezing Something in the Hand
Increasing pain and stiffness in the elbow over a period of time may signal osteoarthritis as the causative factor. Signs and symptoms of elbow arthritis include:
- Clicking or Popping Sensation
- Catching Feeling and Pain on Full Extension
- Decrease in Elbow Range of Motion
Conditions that may cause osteoarthritis of the elbow include:
- Trauma – constant repetition is most common in male laborers
- Prior Fracture of the Elbow
- Elbow Dislocation
Chiropractic Treatment of Elbow Complaints
The purpose of treatment is to reduce inflammation and restore normal biomechanics. Treatment must include modifying or eliminating the cause of the tendinopathies or the condition will not resolve and possibly get worse with time. There is a similarity of treatment for all three of these conditions. What treatments can be expected with chiropractic care? Some examples are:
- Ice and Transverse Friction Massage Over the Epicondyle
- Elbow Splint – Takes the stress off the tendon attachment at the epicondyle
- Ultrasound – Applied to the tendon attachments
- Soft Tissue Massage for the Forearm Muscles – Promotes relaxation
- Electrical Muscle Stimulation – Applied to induce muscle relaxation
- Chiropractic Adjustment – Applied to the radial head to help establish normal biomechanics of the elbow joint
- Wrist Mobilization – May be necessary in some cases
- Modification of Worksite or Activities of Daily Living
- Elbow and Forearm Exercises
Osteoarthritis of the elbow has similar treatment protocols. In addition, the possibilities of loose bodies or what is described by some as “bone chips” in the elbow joint need to be determined by x-ray. If non surgical care fails to control the symptoms or forearm flexion is less than 130°, osteoarthritis of the elbow may possibly need surgical repair. Consideration should be given for this procedure if the limitation is interfering with activities of daily living.
The doctors at Coon Rapids Chiropractic Office have experience in treating elbow complaints.