Elbow pain: No funny bone about it

By John C. Kagan, M.D. –

Elbow pain - No funny bone about itIf you’re an avid golfer or tennis player, the repetitive motion of swinging a club or hitting the ball can wreak havoc on the elbow, causing pain and tenderness, as well as decreased grip strength. Certain occupations that involve painting, sawing wood, pounding a hammer or turning a wrench can also put you at risk for elbow-related problems. Children and teens can develop overuse injuries, too, especially if they are active on a Little League softball team.

What happens to the tissues during an overuse injury? The muscles, tendons and ligaments in the upper and lower arm that attach the bones to the elbow joint become inflamed. Over time, microscopic tears can develop, causing muscle weakness.

Treatment Options
For people who love sports, giving up their favorite recreational activity for even a short time doesn’t sound like much fun. But it is never a good idea to play through the pain, especially for children. Resting the elbow, icing it and taking over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication can help relieve discomfort and give the muscles time to heal.

But if elbow pain and tenderness continue, affecting your ability to get back in the game, it’s best to schedule a physical exam with your physician. Medical evaluation can prevent the injury from getting worse and becoming a chronic problem.

Most overuse injuries can be treated by a combination of nonsurgical treatment options. Wearing a brace on the forearm can reduce tension on the muscles. Physical therapy may be prescribed. Physical therapists may use ultrasound, massage and other muscle-stimulating techniques to promote healing, as well as recommend specific exercises to strengthen the muscles.

When Surgery is Required
Although it is not common, it is possible to partially or completely tear the biceps tendon, the tendon that attaches the muscle in the upper arm bone in the elbow joint. Usually this type of tear is caused by a sudden trauma to the body or lifting something extremely heavy.

A popping sound usually signals the tendon has ruptured and there will be severe pain, swelling, bruising and muscle weakness. Be sure to have an injury of this severity seen quickly to avoid doing more damage to the tissue. Once the biceps tendon is torn, it will not grow back to the bone and you may have permanent weakness in the arm if it is left untreated.

If surgery is indicated, the physician will reattach the biceps tendon to the forearm bone using stitches or small metal implants. You can expect the arm to take two to three months to heal completely. The vast majority of patients can expect a complete recovery with a return to full range of motion.

For more information about sports-related injuries and other orthopedic conditions, call orthopedic surgeon Dr. John C. Kagan at 239-936-6778 or visit www.kaganortho.com. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

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