Elbow pain can range from a short-term nuisance to a chronic condition that forces you to change your work or activities. Here are some of the top ways to fix elbow pain, plus how to know when you should see a doctor for elbow pain and what treatment options are available beyond conventional methods.
Causes of Elbow Pain
Because the elbow is a rather complex joint, and because we use our arms so much every day, elbow pain can be caused by a number of factors. These include:
- Sports injuries or repetitive strain, especially with golf, racquet sports, baseball, and weight lifting (hence the term “tennis elbow”)
- Osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis
- Bursitis (inflammation of the fluid-filled sacs that provide joint cushioning for protection and smooth movement)
- Non-sports trauma (falls, car accidents, etc.)
- Tendinitis (inflammation of tendons, which connect muscle to bone)
- Poor body mechanics or overuse, such as during physical labor or computer work
Common Ways to Fix Elbow Pain
Sometimes simply resting or taking time off from an activity can alleviate elbow pain, particularly if you’ve been overdoing it. Perhaps you’ve been training a little too hard for that golf tournament or painting your house.
Rest is usually only an option when your pain is caused by an extracurricular activity, like a sport or hobby, not when it involves your regular work. To aid in your rest, you may wear a sling, which helps immobilize the arm and reduces the amount of weight pulling on the elbow joint.
Ice and/or heat
For occasional flare-ups, as well as for acute injuries, ice and/or heat are often effective. Ice reduces swelling and provides immediate pain relief. Heat can be soothing to sore muscles and speed healing once swelling is no longer a concern.
If your elbow pain is caused by incorrect body positioning, ergonomic measures can help you and prevent your elbow pain from becoming chronic. This can include:
- Altering the way you stand, twist, or move at work or when performing a repetitive activity, like household chores
- Lifting less weight
- Using push carts or cross-body bags instead of bags that hang from your hands
- Changing your seat height for desk activities
- Using a different computer keyboard
- Upgrading your mouse pad
- Reducing cell phone and tablet usage, holding these items differently, or placing them on a stand
Braces, padding, and taping
Sometimes providing more support for your elbow joint can eliminate pain. Braces can position your arm properly, support your forearm, and provide biofeedback if you move improperly. Padding can prevent pain from impact or rubbing. Kinesiology tape can also offer support during sports and manual labor. These methods are best used with the help of a professional athletic trainer or occupational/physical therapist.
Physical therapy and exercise
If you frequently experience bouts of elbow pain, you may wish to consult with a physical therapist or trainer. These professionals are ideal if the movement you’re performing is triggering your elbow pain. A knowledgeable therapist or trainer can revise your tennis swing or teach you resistance training to build up strength in your upper body, for example, in order to take stress off your elbow.
A TENS unit (short for transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation device) interrupts the communication between nerves in your body and your brain. You apply electrodes around the area of pain, select a setting for the type of pain you have, and turn the power on. A small amount of electrical current is delivered to the area – in this case your elbow – and the pain is stopped. Over-the-counter TENS units are now available in drugstores for self-administered versions of the more complex therapy offered by physical therapists and orthopedists.
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
For short-term use, over-the-counter pain relievers, such as ibuprofen or naproxen, can reduce swelling and relieve pain and stiffness in the elbow. However, long-term, they can raise your blood pressure, increase your risk for cardiac problems, and irritate your stomach or exacerbate acid reflux. Therefore, they should be used sparingly.
When to See a Doctor for Elbow Pain
When the fixes for elbow pain listed above fail to help, the doctor’s office is usually the next step. You should also see a doctor right away if:
- You have a clear deformity in your arm or elbow area that could indicate a broken bone or dislocation.
- You have a bone protruding from your arm.
- You sustained an impact or injury and heard any cracking or snapping noises.
- You cannot move your arm normally, especially turning it palm up or palm down.
- You experience severe pain, bruising, or swelling.
These symptoms might occur after a sports injury, fall, or car accident that causes acute trauma versus long-term joint degeneration or gradual wear and tear.
Conventional Medical Treatments for Elbow Pain
Know the hazards
Once your doctor has ruled out any acute trauma or serious injury, you may be offered one or more traditional treatments for elbow pain:
- Cortisone injections
- Prescription pain medications
There are downsides, however, with each of these treatments. Cortisone can’t be given for years on end, so it’s a short-term solution, not a long-term answer. It may work to get patients through physical therapy, but it’s a band-aid approach. Also, in some cases, cortisone injections may do more harm than good.
Prescription medications have many dangerous side effects, from sedation to addiction. Surgery is costly, with no guarantee it will cure the patient’s elbow pain. You must schedule downtime for recuperation, and there are serious risks to going under anesthesia.
Alternative Treatments for Elbow Pain
You may not have yet heard about regenerative medicine, and your doctor may not know much about it either. This is an innovative treatment that jump-starts healing by harnessing your own natural mechanisms. At RegenerWave Clinic, we inject exosomes, which are more ethically derived “cousins” of stem cells, into the elbow to relieve elbow pain.
The exosomes begin a process that includes reduction of inflammation, growth of new tissue where old tissue has worn out, and improved immunity. The result is reduced or eliminated elbow pain, smoother joint action, and improved flexibility. This type of regenerative medicine can be used in many different joints on the body, and it is also being explored for the treatment of diabetes, cancer, and other illnesses.
While at present regenerative medicine isn’t typically covered by insurance, it may wind up being less expensive than conventional treatments by the time you factor in deductibles, copayments, and out-of-pocket costs. At RegenerWave, we often use exosomes in conjunction with other functional medicine areas, such as gut health and hormones, for a whole-body approach to wellness.
To see if regenerative medicine is an option for your elbow pain, all you have to do is schedule an initial consultation. There, we review your medical history, perform a physical exam, and collect any imaging we need to confirm a diagnosis and formulate a treatment plan.
Don’t suffer from elbow pain or the risks of conventional therapy if you don’t have to. If the common fixes listed above don’t work for you, RegenerWave Clinic may be the answer. Call us at 954-510-3150 today or reach out online to set up your first appointment.