This article describes aching or other discomfort in the elbow that is not related to direct injury.
Pain - elbow
Elbow pain can be caused by many problems. A common cause in adults is tendinitis. This is inflammation and injury to the tendons, which are soft tissues that attach muscle to bone.
People who play racquet sports are most likely to injure the tendons on the outside of the elbow. This condition is commonly called tennis elbow. Golfers are more likely to injure the tendons on the inside of the elbow.
Other common causes of elbow tendinitis are gardening, playing baseball, using a screwdriver, or overusing your wrist and arm.
Young children commonly develop "nursemaid's elbow," usually when someone is pulling on their straightened arm. The bones are stretched apart momentarily and a ligament slips in between. It becomes trapped when the bones try to snap back into place. Children will usually quietly refuse to use the arm, but often cry out when they try to bend or straighten the elbow. This condition is also called an elbow subluxation (a partial dislocation).
Other common causes of elbow pain are:
Bursitis -- inflammation of a fluid-filled cushion beneath the skin
Arthritis -- narrowing of the joint space and loss of cartilage in the elbow
Your health care provider will examine you and carefully check your elbow. You will be asked questions about your medical history and symptoms such as:
Are both elbows affected?
Does the pain shift from the elbow to other joints?
Is the pain over the outside bony prominence of the elbow?
Did the pain begin suddenly and severely?
Did the pain begin slowly and mildly and then get worse?
Is the pain getting better on its own?
Did the pain begin after an injury?
What makes the pain better or worse?
Treatment depends on the cause, but may involve:
Surgery (last resort)
Kane SF, Lynch JH, Taylor JC. Evaluation of elbow pain in adults. Am Fam Physician. 2014;89:649-657.
Regan WD, Morrey BF. Physical examination of the elbow. In: Morrey BF, Sanchez-Sotelo J, eds. The Elbow and Its Disorders. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2004:chap 4.
C. Benjamin Ma, MD, Assistant Professor, Chief, Sports Medicine and Shoulder Service, UCSF Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, San Francisco, CA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.