elbow pain

How do you treat elbow pain?

Elbow pain can result from repetition or overuse of your arm during your favorite activity or the result of a new fitness routine that has you challenging your body in new ways. Being active is important, so whether elbow pain is a result of chronic overuse or new use, it’s time to figure out the reason behind that persistent pain.

Identifying potential causes of elbow pain

The key to properly treating elbow pain is to understand the cause. Aside from an obvious fall or other trauma to the elbow, there are many more subtle causes of elbow pain and injury. Whenever you change your activity level or take on a repetitive task, you can expect to be sore. But it’s important to understand the difference between temporary muscle aches and something more serious. Here are three of the most common symptoms and how to treat elbow pain.

Severe swelling or redness at the back of the elbow may be bursitis. Healthy tissue lies flat against your bone, but an aggravated bursa sac presents as visible inflammation of the cushion between bones in the elbow. Initial treatment often
includes rest, ice, and anti-inflammatories to reduce swelling.

Rest and immobilizing the area are important because continued movement and pressure on the inflamed bursa will not allow it to calm down and heal. People who have recurring bursitis can also consider drainage of the bursa or in some rare cases, surgical removal of the bursa if persistent. 

Continuous pain on the inside or outside of the elbow along with forearm soreness could be (inside) golfer’s elbow or (outside) tennis elbow. This pain is often more severe when people rotate their arm or hold on to things. Among the most common elbow injuries, they’re not reserved for tennis players or golfers. Repetitive motion of many types such as typing or repetitive lifting can be the cause.

As with many injuries, the same initial conservative treatments are often recommended: rest, ice, and NSAIDs can help with pain and reduce swelling. Some patients also participate in physical therapy or receive steroid injections. The most severe cases may require surgery. If you have a muscle or tendon tear or other serious damage, continued activity could make it worse, so see your orthopedic specialist for a diagnosis soon.

Numbness or tingling in the elbow, arm or finger may be different than pain, but is disruptive nonetheless. Pinching of the median nerve at the wrist, known as carpal tunnel syndrome, is one common cause of numbness in the thumb, index and long fingers. Pinching of the ulnar nerve (cubital tunnel syndrome), which wraps around the elbow, can also causes numbness or tingling but typically on the remaining fingers.

Work activities or exercise that put pressure on the elbow, or those that require the elbow to remain bent for extended periods can aggravate or pinch the ulnar nerve. This nerve is the least protected of the nerves in the elbow, which makes it more vulnerable to compression.

Keeping your elbow straight and avoiding long periods of bending is the first course of action you can take if you’ve been diagnosed with cubital tunnel syndrome. Many people benefit from a brace or splint that keeps them from bending their elbows while sleeping. Physical therapy can reduce stiffness and there are several surgical options if your nerve compression is severe or muscle damage has occurred.

While symptoms can vary widely, any chronic elbow pain, numbness or swelling means it’s time to see a doctor. He or she can provide a proper diagnosis and help you treat elbow pain. Your orthopedic upper extremity specialist can also help you find ways to remain active while still allowing your elbow to rest and heal.

For more information on elbow pain and elbow treatments, visit with one of our specialists:

Best Elbow Surgeons

A. Todd Alijani, MD

Dr. A. Todd Alijani

Wayne Gersoff, MD

Dr. Wayne Gersoff

Davis Hurley, MD

Dr. Davis Hurley

Cary Motz, MD

Dr. Cary Motz

H. Andrew Motz, MD

Dr. H. Andrew Motz

John Papilion, MD

Dr. John Papilion

Dr. Micah Worrell

Dr. Micah Worrell

Hurt Knee Skiing

Hurt my knee skiing

Avid Colorado skiers know that it’s been a good year so far, with snow levels pacing well ahead of last year. This is great news for locals who want to get in as many days as possible, but bad news if you hurt your knee skiing all that great powder. When people overdo it or get into terrain that is beyond their ability, knee injuries are common. If you hurt your knee skiing, there are several things you should know to minimize further damage and recover more quickly.

I hurt my knee skiing. Do I need to go to urgent care?

Thankfully, most knee injuries are do not require an expensive trip to the ER or urgent care and treatment can start at home as long as you see an orthopedist relatively quickly following your injury. Read on to learn about three of the most common skiing knee injuries, and how to prevent and treat them.

A) Knee Sprains – Knee sprains account for about 30 percent of all skiing injuries and are becoming more common than ever. Strains occur when one or more ligaments is stretched or torn. Skiing can naturally create circumstances where your knee is twisted or forced out of its normal position. If you have pain or swelling but still have range of motion and stability, you may have a knee sprain.

Sprains require RICE: Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation, and then a trip to your orthopedic specialist. Your doctor will evaluate your knee to confirm it is indeed a sprain and recommend the right treatment to maximize the healing process. But be careful not to ice too long and avoid putting ice directly on your skin. A good rule of thumb is twenty minutes on, forty minutes off. Too much ice can cause nerve damage and frost bite.

B) Torn MCL – More severe than a sprain, a medial collateral ligament (MCL) tear is actually the most common skiing knee injury. The reason for this is twofold: first, beginner and intermediate skiers far outnumber advanced skiers and MCL tears are most likely to occur in less-skilled skiers. Second, the MCL becomes strained or torn when the knees are turned in, which is common when you go into a snowplow (or “pizza”) position.

The symptoms of an MCL tear are often similar to that of a sprain, so it’s important to see an orthopedic expert to ensure you are correctly diagnosed. Some MCL patients also experience a catching or locking feeling or recognize marked instability as well.

If you do manage to tear your MCL, the good news is that most MCL tears can often be treated without surgery. Treatment typically includes the RICE formula, physical therapy to maintain range of motion and build strength, plus the use of a protective brace as you get back into physical activity.

C) A torn Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) is also one of the most common skiing knee injuries. ACL tears are usually considered more severe because they frequently occur in conjunction with damage to another part of the knee. An ACL tear is often caused by a sudden stop or change in direction (think crowds on the slopes, moguls, catching an edge, or navigating an unexpected turn).

While treatment often involves surgery, today’s technology is much less invasive than it was years ago, so you don’t have to worry about a giant “zipper” scar up the front of your knee and most patients begin physical therapy days after surgery. A good orthopedic surgeon can help patients get back to being active quickly with minimally invasive techniques and a comprehensive rehabilitation plan.

A fresh powder day is certainly tempting, but you don’t want it to be your last of the season! You can minimize your chances of these common skiing knee injuries by remembering a few key points:

  • Always ski within your ability and ensure that you keep yourself balanced as you go downhill. Keeping your weight forward (but not too far forward) with your hips and knees bent will help you maintain a balanced position. Leaning back forces your feet forward in your boots (ouch) and ensures you’ll be on your rear end more often than you’d like.
  • Take a break when you need to. It’s easy to get overly excited when there’s such great snow but remember if this is your first time up for the season (or the decade), take it slow! Skiing is a workout, and if you haven’t been doing many (or any) leg exercises, even a few runs can take their toll quickly. Don’t overdo it.
  • Get in ski shape. If you have time to start conditioning before you go, do it! Even just a few weeks of leg and core exercises will make a difference and help minimize your chance of common skiing knee injuries.

Even with all these precautions, accidents do happen, and knee injuries are quite common. If you are reading this because you think you may have injured your knee – we can help!

You know your body best, so never avoid emergency treatment if you think you need it. The good news is that many people are able to apply ice, elevate the knee, and use crutches to get around until their appointment. We can usually see you within 24 hours. Schedule an appointment today with one of our orthopedic knee specialists to get back on your feet and back on the slopes!