Pain in the elbow can occur in many different forms. Depending on their causes, the pain can be acute, piercing, and shooting, chronic, and dull. The elbow joint is made up of three separate joints that involve bones, some muscles, tendons, and bursae. These structures are susceptible to damage and injuries in the event of abrupt injuries or years of inappropriate loading.

An acute pain is when the pain is immediate and sudden and is due to a specific event. Such acute pain subsides with the treatment of the cause within a few days to hours again. In the elbow, however, can also cause chronic pain, the permanently dull manifest or can be triggered by movements in the joint. Chronic pain is usually referred to when the pain persists for more than 6 months.

Causes of elbow pain

The pain occurs when there is irritation or damage to the painful structures. In rarer cases, the cause of the pain may be elsewhere. For example, when the pain is transmitted from the spine to the elbow, it is called a radicular pain caused by the irritation of the nerve root.

In most cases there is an irritation of the tendons and ligaments in the case of newly occurring pain on the outside of the elbow. Tendons are the tight ends of a muscle that are anchored to a bone and transmit the power of the muscle to the bones and joints. Overstraining the associated muscle can irritate or inflame these tendons. A common condition that causes pain on the outer elbow is the tennis elbow. In this case, there is such a tendinitis, caused by monotonous movements that are performed especially in tennis.

Direct trauma and accidents can also cause damage and pain in the elbow. The upper bones, the spokes or the ulna can break joints or occupy misaligned positions.
In addition, it can lead to a capsule tear in the elbow joint. This is also associated with severe pain.
A very common injury to children is the elimination of the radius around the elbow. This can often be caused by a slight pull on the child's hand. As a result, the child painfully holds the arm in an angled protective posture.

Less often it can lead to inflammation of the joint. The inflammation can be caused by pathogens or for no obvious cause, for example in the context of a rheumatic disease. An inflammation in the elbow joint can leave untreated damage to the joint structures and the cartilage. The bursa lying in the joint can also become inflamed. This often needs to be surgically removed for treatment.

The cartilage may also be damaged in the context of joint arthrosis. This is a disease that mainly occurs in the elderly and is due to many years of wear and tear. Here, the pain is particularly strong during exercise and exercise.

Inflammation in the elbow

If the pain can be provoked by targeted pressure from the outside on the elbow, this speaks for an existing inflammatory event. In addition, inflammation often causes swelling, redness, overheating, and mobility limitations. In particular, the tennis elbow is a common cause of inflammation of the elbow joint. Even with acute injuries of the bones, muscles and ligaments local inflammation can occur, which becomes painfully noticeable by pressure.

Capsular rupture on the elbow

A capsular rupture in the elbow joint is primarily due to trauma to the joint.
Capsule surround all joints in the body and serve as a protection against tensile and pressure loading as well as for the nutrition of the articular cartilage by the so-called "synovial fluid". The synovium lubricates the articular surfaces and causes the movements to become more smooth and slippery.
A capsule tear can be associated with numerous accompanying injuries and symptoms, causing severe pain.
The injury of the joint capsule in the elbow severely limits the function of the joint.
Consequences can also result from the injury.

Housemaid's knee

In a healthy joint, bursae have the function of cushioning movements and protecting bones, cartilage and tendons. These are small bags that are filled with the so-called "synovial fluid". The Synovia is the synovial fluid, which allows a low-friction, sliding movement in the joint. Bursae are located next to the elbow in the knee joint. An inflammation of the bursal may have many causes. Often there are overloads of the joint, long pressure or acute injuries such as broken bones. After this, redness and swelling occur, making the movements in the elbow painful. In many cases, bursitis can resolve itself by cooling and protecting it. Quite often, however, the effusion in the joint must be punctured or even operated on.

Blockade at the radius head

The radial head refers to the uppermost part of the spine, one of the two forearm bones. The radius head is partially involved in the elbow joint. It mainly interacts with the upper portion of the ulna around which it rotates in the forearm. The spoke can slip out of the anchorage with the yard, for example, with a jerky pull on the hand. This blockage of the radial head is also referred to as "chassaignac palsy" or "nanny elbow". It is the most common dislocation of a joint in childhood. In abrupt pull on the child's hand or forearm, the spoke can easily luxate. The arm becomes immobile at the elbow and assumes a drooping, slightly inward rotation posture. The reduction is usually very uncomplicated by a doctor.

elbow osteoarthritis

Elbow arthrosis is a rare disease, unlike osteoarthritis of the knee or hip. Osteoarthritis is referred to as joint wear and tear, which results from a reduction and abrasion of the articular cartilage. As the disease progresses, any movement in the joint becomes painful and the bony articular surfaces rub against each other and can also be damaged. Since the elbows need to carry little weight, they are less affected by natural wear. Only after injuries, during construction workers or in the event of severe stress can premature wear of the cartilage occur. The only therapy is to stop the progress of osteoarthritis and to have a joint prosthesis used for severe damage and severe pain.

What is a tennis elbow?

The tennis elbow, also known as epicondylitis humeri lateralis, is a disease of the tendons on the elbow. Translated, the term "inflammation on the outer upper arm" means. His German name has the disease, as it increasingly occurs in tennis players. However, it can also occur without apparent cause or in the context of other movements and sports. The outer bony prominence of the humerus is made up of various muscles that radiate into the forearm bones or the hand and cause stretching in these joints. Even the so-called "supination", turning the palm forward, is performed by these muscles. In case of overuse, the tendons glide along the elbow and can become painfully inflamed, which painfully restricts these movements.

The treatment consists in an interruption of the sport and the protection. The inflammation must be given sufficient time and rest for it to heal completely and not to chronify.

Pain when stretching the elbow

In most cases, pain in the outer elbow particularly affects the stretching process in the joint. Stretching is the responsibility of the muscles that run along the radius of the spine to the outer elbow protrusion. The tennis elbow arises directly from the inflammation of these muscles, which also limits the extension and the so-called "supination", turning the palms forward. Even with a radial head blockage, the stretch is painful and limited. Similarly, in advanced osteoarthritis, all movements are restricted by rubbing the worn joint surfaces together.

Associated symptoms

Pain in the external elbow joint is often aggravated by movement. The pain limits the movement in the joint in the long term. Depending on the cause of the pain, muscle paralysis and miscarriage may be added. If nerves are involved in the onset of pain, the pain can additionally radiate into the forearm and hand. Inflammations of the joint can cause externally visible redness, swelling and overheating.

Diagnosis of pain on the elbow

The diagnosis is largely based on an accurate questioning and external examination of the elbow. Especially after acute injuries or sports activities causes of the pain can be determined quickly. For some diseases, imaging techniques must be used to diagnose. Articular arthroscopy is an invasive way of looking directly into the joint through a camera. In arthrotic changes, the conventional X-ray image can provide information about the joint condition. Inflammatory diseases can be well diagnosed on MRI because it helps to identify soft tissue.


Most complaints in the elbow must first be treated by sparing. In particular, inflammation and bruising of the joint should be sedated until the pain is tolerable. Thereafter, physiotherapy may be used to maintain or restore joint mobility. In some cases, some bursitis may require surgical removal and clearance of the inflammation. Osteoarthritis can also be treated surgically in advanced stages. For this purpose, complete prostheses for the joint are possible with severely worn cartilage.

Some local complaints, such as foreign bodies in the joint, can also be treated by a joint mirror. Arthroscopy is a diagnostic and therapeutic tool at the same time.

How long does pain on the elbow last?

Duration is highly dependent on the cause of the pain on the outer elbow. The tennis elbow, for example, can take a long course. Only by consistent protection can the tennis elbow be healed sustainably. Very often, the pain returns after renewed, early, physical activity and can even become chronic, ie persist for more than half a year.

Osteoarthritis of the elbow joint can not be cured. It develops over years, but the pain can be sudden. Your treatment will last the rest of your life. However, osteoarthritis does not always have to be painful.

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