Posted on: July 15, 2015
Elbow Pain: It’s Not-So-Funny
By Dr. Michael Gott
Elbows can be surprisingly problematic—pain can plague tennis players, golfers, and even gardeners. Although elbow pain can limit your activities, plenty of solutions exist for resolving the pain.
If you experience elbow pain after a fall, an accident, or the pain comes on suddenly, you should head to the emergency room right away. You could have a fracture or dislocation. Other signs that you should see a doctor are numbness, tingling, sudden swelling, or difficulty moving your arm.
Patients often end up in my office due to more chronic concerns. Arthritis, bursitis (inflammation of a fluid cushioning sac in the joint), and pinched nerves (especially the ulnar nerve—your “funny bone”) can all create the kind of persistent pain that will lead patients to seek medical help. The most common complaints I see are tennis or golfer’s elbow. The pain is usually a form of tendonitis—inflammation in the tendons that connect forearm muscles to bone.
The first step for patients to try is RICE: Rest, ice, compression, and elevation. Resting your arm and applying ice for 15 to 20 minutes, three times a day will help reduce inflammation and ease the pain. You can achieve compression with elbow braces and wraps easily found at the drugstore; these will help take pressure off the tendon. Finally, keeping your elbow elevated above your heart will also help reduce swelling.
To help manage pain, I recommend starting with over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen or naproxen. However, if you don’t find relief with these measures, your doctor may suggest a cortisone (steroid) injection, especially for tennis or golfer’s elbow. This can provide immediate pain relief and, with physical therapy, allow patients to gradually return to play. If the pain persists, surgical solutions also exist. A surgeon can perform arthroscopic surgery to address structural problems like bone spurs.
An exciting new option is platelet-rich plasma (PRP), a therapy used by athletes such as Tiger Woods and Rafael Nadal. Blood is drawn from the patient and platelets—which contain proteins called growth factors—are separated, concentrated, and then re-injected into the problem elbow. The concentrated growth factor seems to speed healing. We’ve had some excellent success in treating chronic tennis and golfer’s elbow with PRP.
Editor’s Note: Michael Gott, MD is the Medical Director of Northern Westchester Hospital’s Orthopedic and Spine Institute at Yorktown. Dr. Gott specializes in conditions of the shoulder, elbow, wrist, hip, knee and ankle including traumatic and sports related injuries as well as arthritic conditions.