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Elbow pain can be common and has been shown to impact significantly on your ability to complete daily tasks or participate in sporting activities. Use of the upper limb demands a well-functioning elbow. Elbow pain can arise from an acute injury or accident such as a fall, or an overload of the muscles and tendons gradually through repetitive activities at work, home or sport. There is research in favour of Physiotherapy treatment techniques such as manual therapy, taping and exercise to reduce pain from elbow injuries.

Basic Anatomy

The elbow is made up of 3 bones; The humerus, radius and ulna. Over 20 muscles in the forearm and 5 muscles in the upper arm are situated around the elbow and act to move the 3 bones. Much of the stability of the elbow joint itself comes in the form of the strong ligaments that help make up the elbow joint capsule.

The elbows primary role is to bend and straighten to allow the hand to be placed in useful positions to complete various tasks.

The role of your physiotherapist

Elbow pain is less common than shoulder or knee pain, so it is important to access a Physiotherapist who is regularly assessing and treating elbow injuries, as they are most likely to be up to date with the latest research. The Role of the Physiotherapist is generally to treat the Elbow injury, by providing a diagnosis, providing symptom relief through manual therapy, exercises and education regarding activity modification.

What to do if you have elbow pain?

1.       Let a professional assess you. Elbow pain can arise from a variety of causes and structures. You may feel pain in the elbow but this can be originating from the shoulder or neck, and not necessarily the elbow itself.

2.       Manage your pain. This can include medication, manual therapy from a Physiotherapist, or an exercise program. Modifying your daily activities or loads is often significant in reducing elbow pain, as the cause if often to do with the volume of load on the elbow from completed tasks or activities.

3.       Don’t stress about it. Studies have shown that increased physiological stressors can affect your pain, and the majority of injuries arising from the elbow will recover if managed correctly, especially with help from your Physiotherapist.

4.        Trial conservative management first- Almost all elbow injuries respond to conservative management through Physiotherapy. Even the exception, unstable fractures or dislocations which require surgery, have a role for Physiotherapy postoperatively to improve range of movement and ability to use the elbow and hand.

Potential Causes of elbow pain

Some of the most common causes of elbow pain include;

  • Lateral Epicondylalgia (or Tennis Elbow)
  • Medial epicondylalgia (or Golfers Elbow)
  • Bursitis

Others less common, but just as significant include:

  • Muscle or tendon overuse injuries
  • Ligament injuries
  • Fractures
  • Nerve compressions
  • Systemic conditions such as gout or rheumatoid arthritis
  • Pain referred from the neck or shoulder
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