You've heard of tennis elbow and golfer's elbow, but you don't play either of those sports, and the pain in your elbow is so bad that you can't perform simple tasks such as picking up a suitcase or setting the table. Or worse, you are finding it increasingly difficult to do your job—whether you sit at a computer all day or work a cash register. The thought of surgery to fix the problem is probably a bit overwhelming, but once you are ready to get back to the full mobility and pain-free life you once had, it's time to talk to an elbow surgeon about your options.
Common Elbow Injuries and Conditions
Elbow pain and stiffness could be the result of injury, overuse, or a genetic predisposition. Athletes—whether professional or recreational—who use their arms extensively in their sport, such as tennis players, golfers, and pitchers, are at a high risk of damaging the joint and developing some form of long-term pain and inflexibility. However, you do not have to be an athlete to injure your elbow. Certain types of jobs, such as retail, factory, restaurant, construction, and office work, can cause injuries similar to those found in athletes. Some typical elbow injuries and conditions we see in our offices include the following:
- Lateral epicondylitis (tennis elbow). A common injury in tennis players, this chronic condition starts when the tendons in the elbow have been overworked and inflamed. It can happen to anyone who performs repetitive motions using their hands and arms. The pain usually originates on the bony bump on the outside of the elbow and radiates into the forearm and wrist. People with tennis elbow may have a hard time grasping things with their hands.
- Medial epicondylitis (golfer's or baseball elbow). In most respects, this injury is just like tennis elbow, but the pain originates on the inside of the elbow and is common in golfers and baseball players. The forearm and wrist are also affected, and the patient will have a hard time shaking hands and turning doorknobs.
- Bursitis. Bursae are fluid-filled sacs that cushion the bones, tendons, and muscles around joints in the body. Bursitis is a painful condition that happens when the sacs around the knee, hip, shoulder, heel, or elbow become irritated and inflamed. Elbow bursitis can be caused by landing on the elbow in a fall or by general overuse and irritation.
- Arthritis. Osteoarthritis is an age-related condition that can affect any of the body's joints, including the elbow. When the cushioning cartilage surrounding the elbow has worn away, movement of the joint can be painful. Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that also damages the cartilage around joints and can sometimes affect the elbow.
- Cubital tunnel syndrome. The cubital tunnel is a passageway made of muscle, ligament, and bone that houses the ulnar nerve found on the inside of the elbow. When this nerve is injured, it becomes inflamed, swollen, and irritated. Similar to carpal tunnel syndrome, which affects the wrist, cubital tunnel syndrome can cause pain on the inside of the elbow but also causes numbness and tingling in the pinky and ring fingers.
- Dislocation or other traumatic injuries. Bicycle crashes, skateboarding and skiing accidents, and falls are common ways to dislocate or break the bones in your elbow. This can be a difficult joint to heal.
You do not have to know what has caused the pain and stiffness in your elbow when you come into one of our Portland offices to find relief. We will assess your injury and develop a treatment plan that usually begins with conservative measures such as pain meds, rest, ice, and physical therapy. However, if those treatments are not effective, we will discuss your surgical options.
Surgical Procedures to Relieve Pain and Restore Mobility
No one wants to undergo surgery if it can be avoided, but when all else fails, and you want to get your full strength and mobility back in your elbows and arms, it might be time to consider a surgical procedure. Your Northwest Extremity orthopedist will explain which of the following types of procedures is right for you:
- Arthroscopic surgery. Several painful elbow conditions can be relieved with arthroscopic surgery. In this minimally invasive procedure, small incisions are made to allow for the insertion of a tiny camera and surgical instruments. Your surgeon can then remove bone fragments and repair cartilage or tendons.
- Synovectomy. Rheumatoid arthritis might be treated by removing the inflamed joint linings known as synovium.
- Joint replacement. In rare situations, a total elbow joint replacement might be necessary. In this procedure, the affected areas of the joint are removed and replaced with a prosthetic.
- Joint fusion. If joint replacement is not an option, a surgeon might fuse the parts of the elbow together to stabilize the joint and provide pain relief.
There is a solution to your elbow pain, and we want to help you find it.
Break Free From Elbow Pain!
Our skilled orthopedic surgeons have a wealth of options available to treat your chronic elbow pain and stiffness. Call us today at 503-245-2420 to make an appointment in the Portland-area office closest to you.