What are diseases and conditions that can cause
elbow pain, and how are they treated?
Arthritis of the elbow
Inflammation of the elbow joint (arthritis) can occur as a
many systemic forms of arthritis, including rheumatoid
arthritis, osteoarthritis, gouty
ankylosing spondylitis, and
reactive arthritis (formerly
called Reiter's disease). Generally, they are associated with signs of
inflammation of the elbow joint, including heat, warmth, swelling, pain,
tenderness, and decreased range of motion. Range of motion of the elbow is
decreased with arthritis of the elbow because the swollen joint impedes the
range of motion.
Inflammation of the skin
related to infection (cellulitis)
commonly occurs as a result of abrasions of the skin. When abrasions or puncture
wounds occur, bacteria on the surface of the skin can invade the deeper layers
of the skin. This causes inflamed skin characterized by redness, warmth,
and swelling. The most common bacteria that cause cellulitis include
Streptococcus. Patients can have an associated low-grade
fever. Cellulitis generally requires
treatment, either orally or intravenously. Heat application can
the healing process. Cellulitis can lead to infection of the olecranon bursa, causing olecranon bursitis, as described above.
Infected elbow joint (septic arthritis)
Infection of the elbow joint with bacteria (septic arthritis)
uncommon. It is most often seen in patients with suppressed
or diabetes, those taking cortisone medications, or intravenous
abusers. The most common bacteria that cause infection of the
are Staphylococcus and Streptococcus. Septic arthritis of the
requires antibiotic treatment and often surgical drainage. It is
characterized by heat, swelling, redness, and pain,
range of motion of the elbow joint. Septic arthritis is often associated with
sweats, and chills.
Osteochondritis dissecans is an uncommon disease of cartilage in the joint whereby the cartilage effectively flakes away from the bone. This can lead to locking, pain, and loss of range of motion of the elbow. Osteochondritis
dissecans is diagnosed by MRI scan or contrast CT scan imaging of the involved elbow joint. This is generally treated by arthroscopic surgical repair and removal of the diseased cartilage.
Bone tumors of the elbow joint are rare. Primary bone cancer
It can be painless or associated with pain in the elbow joint.
usually detectable by X-ray testing. Nuclear medicine bone
also be helpful for detection.
Ulnar nerve entrapment
The ulnar nerve is the "funny bone" nerve which
between the tip of the elbow and the inner elbow bone. At this
site it can
be "pinched" by normal structures or swollen
injury. This pinching is referred to as entrapment. When ulnar
entrapment occurs, numbness and tingling of the little and ring
the hand may be felt. Pain may occur in the entire forearm,
inner side. Hand dexterity can be affected. Sometimes, the
reproduced by elevating the hand. Treatment consists of
trauma or pressure to the elbow area and resting the elbow
Occasionally, ice can help. In severe cases, surgical
repositioning of the
ulnar nerve can be required. This relocates the ulnar nerve to
where it will not be continually compressed by the surrounding