There are various possible causes of elbow pain or arm pain. These include injury to the arm, compression of the nerves that serve the arm, arthritis, and various other health conditions.
A sprain can occur when a movement of the arm has caused damage to the connective tissues in the area. This can present as arm or elbow pain. This damage is usually acute and temporary, and the pain will improve with time as the tissues are repaired.
A fracture or dislocation of a bone in the arm or elbow may also be responsible for causing elbow pain. Most patients are able to pinpoint the cause of the pain or trace it to a certain incident that caused the damage.
Repetitive strain injury (RSI) can also cause elbow pain. It is due to the performance of repetitive tasks that involve movements of the elbows. As such, it commonly affects office workers who use computers frequently throughout the day, and other individuals whose job comprises repetitive manual work.
Tennis elbow or golfer’s elbow can cause elbow pain, and occurs due to the overuse of the muscles and tendons in the joint. It is so named because it is most common in individuals who plan tennis or golf, due to the arm movements that are involved in these sports.
The joints and bones of an individual show wear and tear as part of the natural aging process. This can lead to the squashing or trapping of nerves, which in turn can cause pain in various areas of the body. In this case, the nerves around the elbow may be pinched, causing pain. Other sensations, such as numbness or tingling, may also be experienced.
Cervical spondylosis is a condition that involves compression of the spinal nerves in the neck region. Some of these nerves are responsible for the sensory messages of pain carried to and from the arm. Damage to them can hence lead to arm pain. Sometimes the compressed nerve may be located in the arm.
A cervical rib is a musculoskeletal abnormality that involves the presence of an additional rib above the normal first rib. This extra bone can interfere with the free passage of nerves in the region, which may lead to elbow pain.
Osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis that affects the elbow joint can lead to stiffness, pain and inflammation of the elbow and arm.
Osteoarthritis involves damage to the cartilage at the ends of the bones that help to prevent friction between the bones that take part in the joint, often due to overuse of or injury to the joint. This leads to rubbing of the bones against each other, which provokes the symptoms of arthritis.
Rheumatoid arthritis involves an autoimmune response of the body that leads to damage to the synovial membrane that lines the joints in the body, including the elbow. In this condition, both elbows are usually affected.
Other health conditions that cause elbow pain
Angina is a health condition that involves reduced blood flow to the heart muscles as a result of narrowing of the blood vessels. Individuals with angina may experience a dull, throbbing pain in the chest, neck, and left arm as a symptom of the condition, particularly during physical activity or when they undergo stress.
Gout is another health condition characterized by the formation of sharp crystals at various locations around the body, including inside the elbow joints. This is due to a high concentration of uric acid in the body. This can cause severe elbow pain during a gout attack.
Olecranon bursitis is the build up of fluid inside the fold of smooth synovial membrane that cushions the olecranon (the bony tip of the elbow joint). This can cause pain and inflammation.
Reviewed by Liji Thomas, MD