4 Causes of Elbow Inflammation and Best Treatment Options

elbow inflammation causes

Injuries are something that everyone will incur at some point in their lifetime.

When an injury is accompanied by inflammation, it is really hard to ignore and regardless of your pain tolerance, you take notice.

The causes of elbow inflammation can vary greatly but what you really want to know is what is the best treatment for your inflammation so it goes away and doesn’t come back.

Check out this list of 4 causes:

Am I right?

Before I teach you the best way to treat your inflamed elbow, let’s look at potential causes.

Your body’s natural response to an injured /damaged muscle, tendon and/or bone is swelling and inflammation.

This occurs when blood rushes to the area of injury.

Think of what happens when you strike your leg on a hard surface like a table or chair.

The next day you most likely have a bruise.

In most cases, the more severely injured you are, the larger the inflammation.

But what if you have elbow pain but no swelling.  Is this something totally different which needs addressing differently?

Basic Elbow Anatomy

elbow joint

Before you get to the causes of your inflamed elbow, I want to give you a very brief anatomy lesson of the elbow.

Your elbow is what is referred to as a hinge joint.

At the joint is the connection of your upper arm bone with your forearm bone.

To be exact, 3 bones( the radius, ulna and humerus) come together at the joint to form your elbow.

The bones in your body are secured and supported together by muscles and tendons.

It goes muscle >> tendon >> bone.

If you look to what holds your elbow joint together, it is the extensor and flexor tendons.

The inside of your elbow is connected by your flexor tendon.

The attachment point is referred to as the medial epicondyle.

On the outside of your elbow, your extensor tendon connects to your arm bone at the lateral epicondyle.

As for muscles, your forearm flexors muscles run up on the inside of your forearm from your wrist up to your elbow.

When your forearm muscles become engaged and flexed, your hand is pulled inwards towards your wrist.

Looking at the outer part of your forearm, you extensor muscles run again from the outer part of your wrist all the way the outside of your forearm and connect on the lateral side of your elbow.

In order to extend your wrist upwards, you need to engage your forearm extensor muscles.

As a result your hand gets pulled away from your body.

4 Likely Causes of Elbow Inflammation:

1. Broken elbow/arm

broken elbow

Anytime you break a bone, swelling and inflammation usually comes on pretty quick.

Not only will your elbow become swollen but there should be some signs of deformity accompanied by severe pain.

In most cases, you won’t be able to move your arm like you used to.

Pain usually increases when try to straighten your arm or make a fist.

The only way in which a broken arm can be properly diagnosed is with an x-ray.

So if you think your arm is broken, please go to your nearest hospital and have it x-rayed.

2. Olecranon bursitis

olecranon bursitis

The distinguishing feature of this elbow injury is inflammation behind the elbow.

This is usually caused when the bursa sac, which sits behind your elbow, experiences some sort of trauma or blunt force.

The best way to explain the location of the bursa sac is that when you lean on your elbow, it is this area that makes contact with the hard surface.

It contains white fluid that helps with the lubrication of your elbow.

When it receives a quick blow, it produces more fluid.  This is why your elbow becomes inflamed and swollen.

Another distinguishing feature of olecranon bursitis is that your elbow will feel hot and be red in colour.

3. Golfers elbow

golfers elbow

For people who are experiencing elbow inflammation on the inside of their elbow, then this could be a sign of golfers elbow.

The definition of golfers elbow is pain and inflammation on the inside of the elbow.

Golfers elbow is caused by repetitive movements and actions that cause the forearm flexors to become strained and even torn.

The exact location of the tear is at the medial epicondyle.

This is the attachment point of the medial flexor tendon to your arm bone.

This can be caused by playing too much sport such as golf, baseball, volleyball, tennis or even performing simple everyday activities or perhaps even on the job.

Even though it is called golfers elbow, you don’t need to play golf to develop this repetitive strain injury.

4. Tennis elbow

tennis elbow

This is most common form of injury that can first show itself as inflammation.

Tennis elbow like golfers elbow is a repetitive strain injury.

The difference between the two is location of the injury on your elbow.

Golfers elbow affects the inside of the elbow whereas tennis elbow affects the outside of the elbow.

When your extensor tendon is overworked, is can start to break down and tear.

This can cause swelling and inflammation on the outside of your elbow.

The strange thing about tennis elbow is that the inflammation period is relatively short.

It is usually only present for the first 2 -3 weeks and then it disappears just as fast as it showed up.

Tennis elbow causes can vary but one thing is for certain, it is caused by performing repetitive tasks and actions that require constant and repeated extension of your wrist.

And it is usually combined with you holding or gripping an object in your dominant hand.

The activity does not have to be strenuous, it just needs to be repetitive.

So actions such as using power tools, screwdrivers, playing tennis, typing on a keyboard or tablet, any type of manual labor job, cutting hair, working with small items such as jewellery, plumbing, cutting veggies, painting, yard work, gardening, etc…

Are all considered high risk activities for tennis elbow.

Some of them sound very innocent but don’t be fooled,  they can really cause injuries such as tennis elbow.

Other signs of tennis elbow besides swelling and inflammation can include:

  1. increase in elbow pan when grip, hold or squeeze an object.
  2. decrease in your arms normal range of motion and/or flexibility.
  3. pain, tenderness and/or burning sensation on lateral/outer side of your elbow.
  4. affected arm is hard to straighten or extend, especially first thing in the morning.
  5. simple tasks such as taking out the trash, turning a doorknob, shaking hands, holding a mug cause outer elbow pain.

Here is a great read on elbow pain causes with more in depth medical jargon.

Treatment Options for Inflammation of the Elbow 

A swollen and inflamed elbow is obviously a sign of injury but what are your treatment options?

For inflammation on any body part, the first thing you should do is apply ice.

This is usually easily accessible as most people at the very least have a bag of frozen veggies in the freezer.

Frozen veggies are great to use because they form nicely and hug your elbow.

The bag also acts a protective barrier so there is no risk of damaging your skin.

Whenever possible, avoid the application of ice directly to your skin!

Best practice is to create a barrier between the “icing agent” and the area you are icing and looking for inflammation and pain relief.

As mentioned above, if your arm/elbow is broken, the only treatment is the application of a cast.

This totally immobilizes your arm and allows the bone to heal and set properly.

As far as olecranon bursitis goes, in severe cases, your elbow may need to be drained by a Medical Doctor.

In non-severe, typical cases, anti-inflammatory drugs can be used.

Cortisone injection can also be done but this could be costly and painful.

If your bursa sac is infected, then you maybe looking at a round of antibiotics but again your Doctor will be able to advise you on this.

For individuals who are suffering from golfers or tennis elbow, it is recommended that you implement the R.I.C.E. principles.  R – rest, I – ice, C – compression, and E – elevate.

This is considered “best practice” for any kind of soft tissue injury, especially cases where there is inflammation and swelling.

As mentioned, what’s so bizarre about tennis elbow is that the longer you have it, the less inflammation that is present.

But this does’t mean that you are out of the woods and that your tennis elbow magically healed on it’s own.

Avoiding and putting off treatment will only make matters worse.

It is possible that your extensor tendon may degenerate and the small, mini tear that you have could potentially get larger and larger until the only treatment that will work is surgery.

And I’m sure you don’t want that!

Am I right?

Don’t let tennis elbow play tricks on you.

You could end up battling with it for years, just like I did.

And believe me, you don’t want to shell out over $700 on “treatment” that doesn’t work!

I’m talking about and pointing the finger at Doctors, physical therapy, anti-inflammatory pills/creams, elbow braces, massage therapy and cortisone shots.

But what did finally work were these 5 strange, yet effective techniques that you do while sitting in your comfy chair at home, watching your favorite TV show!

And 10 years later, my elbow has never felt stronger!

1 thought on “4 Causes of Elbow Inflammation and Best Treatment Options”

  1. Hi There,
    I have tennis elbow since months (2-3) now and nothing seems to work. Iceing has an adverse effect. Elbow strap as you say causes more pain in the end. Though I have not tried physiotherapy and injections but planning to try soon.
    I am still not sure how I got this but this was caused when I started dieting and lost 18 kgs in 5 months with extreme HIIT exercises including weight training.

    Now I have stopped gym since weeks and have changed my mouse to evoluent but nothing really helps.

    Doctor had confirmed that I had a tennis elbow but told me injection wouldnot work in longer runs and suggested physiotherapy.

    Any suggestions from your end will be highly appreciable. I am very much disappointed because of this pain is a showstopper in my motivation for dieting and loosing my weight further.


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