The elbow is a complex mechanism composed of cartilage, ligaments, fluid, muscle, bone, and tendons. All of these components work together to provide your body with seamless range of motion — that is, until one of these parts becomes diseased or damaged.
Because of the cooperative nature of your elbow, if just one part of it becomes injured, then the entire elbow becomes compromised. This can lead to pain, stiffness, and the development of elbow conditions that require orthopedic treatment.
Common Elbow Conditions
For most people, elbow pain is temporary and can be cleared up within a few days of at-home treatment. But, orthopedic care is necessary if the pain is prolonged, or is joined by bruising, soreness, stiffness, or a “catching” sensation in the elbow.
Here at Orthopedic Physicians Associates (OPA) in Bellevue, our doctors have spent decades treating elbow conditions and helping our patients recover. We treat a wide variety of elbow conditions, including (but not limited to):
Arthritis comes in many varieties. The two kinds which most frequently appear in the elbow are rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis. Each of these attacks different parts of the elbow.
- Osteoarthritis occurs over time as your elbow cartilage begins to break down. This exposes the ends of your arm bones, causing them to grind together and inflict you with stiffness and pain.
- Rheumatoid arthritis causes swelling in the elbow joint by tricking your immune system into attacking your elbow tissue.
Baseball and Other Sports Injuries
Athletes who frequently throw overhand are at an increased risk of repetitive strain injuries and other elbow conditions. Overuse conditions occur when an athlete or someone in another profession makes the same action again and again,
Baseball and other sports injuries can inflict the inner elbow with a variety of conditions, including:
- Olecranon Stress Fracture
- Flexor Tendinitis
- Valgus Extension Overload (VEO)
- Ulnar Collateral Ligament (UCL) injury
- Ulnar Neuritis
Distal Bicep Tendon Tear or Rupture
Your bicep is located on the upper arm and is the main powerhouse that moves your arm. The way the bicep moves the lower arm is via a tendon which passes over the elbow and connects to the forearm.
While this tendon is quite strong, it is possible for it to get torn from the forearm bone. This is called a distal bicep tendon tear or rupture. Tendon tears in the elbow are almost always due to sudden injury. For example, you tried to pick something up that was too heavy, or your elbow was suddenly straightened out while you were flexing your bicep.
A distal bicep tendon tear or rupture is painful and the symptoms include:
- Bruising and swelling around the elbow
- Difficulty bending or twisting the elbow
- Immediate elbow pain after an injury
- A sudden popping sound in the elbow
An elbow fracture occurs when one of your arm’s three bones breaks at the elbow joint. These three bones include the upper arm bone (the humerus) and the two forearm bones ( the radius and ulna).
Fractures are usually the result of sudden injury, For example, falling on your arm, a car accident, or being struck during a contact sport.
Elbow fractures are serious and need quick emergency care from an orthopedic physician. If left untreated, a fracture can inflict your elbow with permanent bone and tissue damage.
Another injury is the stress fracture. These are overuse conditions that slowly create tiny cracks in elbow’s bones. Stress fractures afflict people who make frequent and repetitive movements with their elbow (e.g. baseball pitchers, assembly line workers).
Growth Plate Injuries
When a child or adolescent is still growing, the ends of their long bones contain soft tissue called growth plates. Growth plates are what causes bones to grow as a child ages.
Unfortunately, the elbow’s growth plates can be damaged due to impact or overuse. For example, these injuries are seen in children who play sports like tennis, golf and baseball, where the elbow is prone to stress injury.
An injury to a child’s growth plates is extremely serious, as it can result in long-term complications and skeletal growth problems is left untreated.
It’s possible for tiny pieces of cartilage and bone to break off and wander around inside your elbow. When this happens, you are experiencing loose bodies.
While loose bodies aren’t inherently dangerous, they cause problems when they drift into an elbow joint and get caught in your bones, tendons, and cartilage. This can essentially “lock” your elbow in a position and may result in long-term harm if not treated quickly.
Symptoms of loose bodies include:
- Elbow pain and stiffness
- Feeling like your elbow is locked or stuck
- Awareness that there is a fragment moving inside the elbow
- Feeling a “catching” sensation when you bend your elbow
Tendinitis is an overuse injury that affects the tendons in your elbow. Tennis elbow and golfers elbow are two kinds of tendinitis.
The difference between these two kinds of tendinitis is that tennis elbow is a condition affecting tendons on the outside of the elbow, while golfers elbow affects tendons on the inside.
While these may sound like sports injuries, golfers and tennis elbow can affect anyone who frequently makes the same motion with their elbow.
Ulnar Collateral Ligament
Ulnar Collateral Ligament (UCL) injuries are another repetitive stress injury that afflicts people in sports and other industries relying on elbow motion. During a UCL, the ligaments that hold your elbow together or torn. This is extremely painful and requires the attention of an orthopedic doctor in order to successfully heal.
Ulnar Nerve Entrapment
Your body contains thousands of nerves. These run back and forth from your brain to your extremities, communicating motion and sensation. One of the dominant nerves in your arm is the ulnar nerve. The ulnar nerve runs from your neck, all the way down past your elbow to your fingers.
Ulnar nerve entrapment occurs when this nerve gets irritated, pinched, or compressed as it runs through the elbow. This causes pain, soreness, and stiffness in the elbow. Another term for this condition is “cubital tunnel syndrome.”
Bellevue Orthopedic Treatments for Elbow Pain
If you are experiencing elbow pain or believe that you may have one or more of the above conditions, you can find help and recovery here at Orthopedic Physicians Associates in Bellevue.
Whether you are fighting a long-term condition like arthritis, or are trying to overcome a sports injury, our orthopedic physicians have the technology and experience necessary to help you heal.
We offer a wide range of elbow treatments, including:
Arthroscopic surgery is a state-of-the-art treatment that uses miniaturized surgical tools, tiny cameras, and fiber optics to do minimally invasive elbow surgery.
Arthroscopic surgery can also be used to diagnose what your elbow condition is. If x-ray and other imaging can’t pick up on the problem, your doctor may suggest sending in the tiny cameras to diagnose your problem.
Fracture care requires the skilled hand of an orthopedic doctor in order to determine what level of care the injured elbow should receive. Care depends on the location and severity of the fracture.
Treatment for a simple fracture where the bones are still in place includes:
- Applying a splint to the elbow
- Applying ice to the elbow to reduce swelling
- Taking pain medication
But, if a more severe fracture has occurred (bones are out of place or protruding through skin), then surgery will likely be necessary.
Some conditions, like arthritis, can be treated with recovery-stimulating or pain-reducing injections. Two of the injection treatments we offer here at OPA are PRP and cortisone.
- Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP) is a treatment that uses the regenerative platelets in your blood to stimulate healing in tendon injuries.
- Cortisone shots can help relieve the symptoms of bursitis, arthritis, and tendinitis.
Loose Body Removal
Loose bodies in the elbow need to be removed if they are impeding elbow function. Symptoms of this include a “catching” sensation, locking, or clicking in the elbow.
The most common treatment for loose bodies is arthroscopic surgery. This is a minimally invasive surgery where the surgeon makes tiny holes in the elbow and accesses the loose body through these portals.
Non-Operative and Conservative Treatment
If your elbow condition is not severe enough to need surgery, then our specialists here at OPA will help you decide on the best non-operative and conservative treatment for your condition. This might include pain medication, injections, physical therapy, and use of a splint or sling.
Ulnar Nerve Release or Transposition
If you are suffering from ulnar nerve compression or cubital tunnel syndrome, then your doctor may suggest ulnar nerve release or transposition surgery.
These surgeries move the ulnar nerve out from behind the medial epicondyle and shift it to the front part of your elbow joint. This frees it from being compressed, thus relieving your pain.
What to Do if You Have an Elbow Injury in Bellevue
The course of action you take after receiving an elbow injury depends on the severity of the symptoms. Here are some guidelines to help you make the right call:
Get Immediate Emergency Care if:
- There is a bone protruding from your elbow
- Your bicep has shifted or a deformity is present in your elbow
Call Your Doctor as Soon as Possible if:
- You are experiencing a “catching” sensation or pain that prevents you from moving your elbow normally
- There is swelling, bruising, or severe pain around or in your elbow
Schedule a Clinic Visit with OPA Within the Next Few Weeks if:
- Your elbow feels dull, persistent pain even when you’re not moving it
- There is increasing redness, pain, or swelling around the elbow joint
- Elbow pain doesn’t alleviate with home care
To learn more about elbow pain, or to schedule an appointment with our elbow specialists, contact OPA today.