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Elbow pain is sometimes due to arthritis, but in general, most elbow pain results from overuse injuries. Sports or any activities and professions that require repetitive hand, wrist or arm movements are more prone to elbow injury. Common causes of elbow pain are bursitis, elbow strains, and arthritis.

Topics below cover two common areas of elbow problems.

Arthritic Elbow

Arthritis is a term that is used to describe over 100 different conditions that can affect the human body. There are millions of Americans who are affected by arthritis each year. Arthritis can cause pain, stiffness, swelling, and loss of motion in affected joints.

The two most common forms of arthritis that generally affects the elbow are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.

Arthritic Elbow Treatment, Rockville, Maryland

Osteoarthritis, the most common form of arthritis, results in the wearing out of the cartilage that protects the bones in the joints. Once cartilage is damaged or destroyed, cartilage cannot repair or replace itself like many other body tissues. Elbow cartilage can be compared to the tread of an automobile tire, very durable but susceptible to wear over time.  As we age, the tread surface slowly erodes until the underlying bone is exposed. This exposed bone can be painful when the joint moves and bears weight.

Often the cause of arthritis is unknown, but may develop as a result of injury to the joint, excess body weight, or years of wear and tear on the joint cartilage. There is no known cure. The best that doctors can do for patients is to restore motion and reduce pain.

Common symptoms of osteoarthritis of the elbow

  • Severe elbow pain that limits everyday activity
  • Loss of range of motion
  • Chronic swelling of the elbow with morning stiffness
  • Numbness in ring finger and small finger

Rheumatoid Arthritis is a systemic inflammatory condition of the joint lining, where the body’s immunological system attacks healthy tissue, causing inflammation of the joint lining and subsequent joint damage. When rheumatoid arthritis is present, the cartilage is not being provided with enough lubrication and nourishment. This leads to loss of motion and pain in the elbow.

Elbow Injuries

There are many different types of elbow injuries; however, there are a few that are more common than others. Common types of elbow injuries include golfer's elbow, tennis elbow, and bursitis. These conditions can cause elbow pain, swelling, and stiffness.

Golfer's elbow, also called medial epicondylitis, is pain and inflammation on the inner side of your elbow, where the tendons of your forearm muscles attach to the bony bump on the inside of your elbow. It's not limited to golfers. Tennis players and others who repeatedly use their wrists or clench their fingers also can develop golfer's elbow.

Symptoms include pain on the inside of the elbow, stiffness, weakness in your hands and wrists, numbness and tingling that may radiate into one or more fingers. Activities that use the flexor muscles in a bending motion or grasping with the hand can make symptoms worse.

Tennis elbow (lateral epicondylitis) is a very common cause of elbow pain. It is an injury that occurs from repeated use of the muscles of the arm and forearm, leading to small tears of the tendons. The pain of tennis elbow occurs primarily where the tendons of your forearm muscles attach to the bony prominence on the outside of your elbow.

Symptoms include pain on the outside of the elbow, pain when you extend your wrist, lifting or grasping objects may be difficult, and sometimes pain will radiate down the arm.

Bursitis is a painful inflammation in your body's joints usually caused by overuse or repetitive stress on your elbow. There are more than 150 bursae (small, fluid-filled sacs) in your body that lubricate and cushion pressure points between your bones and the tendons and muscles near your joints. When inflammation of the bursa occurs (bursitis), movement or pressure becomes painful.

Symptoms include a dull ache or stiffness, swollen or warm to the touch, redness in the area of the inflamed bursa, and an increase of pain with movement or pressure.

All patient education materials are provided by and have been reviewed by our Advisory Board of leading Orthopedic Surgeons to ensure accuracy. All materials are provided for informational purposes only and are not intended to be a substitute for medical advice from your orthopedic surgeon. Any medical decisions should be made after consulting a qualified physician. This site includes links to other web sites. takes no responsibility for the content or information contained in the linked sites.

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