Lateral Elbow Pain
The most common term for pain on the outside of the elbow is Tennis Elbow (Llateral Epicondylitis). However there are a number of other causes of lateral elbow pain which should be considered as well as acute elbow injuries such as ligament sprains and fractures. Other potential causes of pain on the outside of the elbow include referred pain, radial tunnel syndrome, synovitis, bursitis and osteochondritis dissecans.
Tennis Elbow is a general term used to describe pain on the outside of the elbow. The most common causes is inflammation or degeneration of the tendon of the wrist extensor muscles as they insert into the elbow. It is also known as lateral epicondylitis or extensor tendinopathy.
Radial tunnel syndrome or radial nerve entrapment as it is sometimes called is when the radial nerve gets compressed or restricted in the tunnel it passes through.
Osteochondritis Dissecans is a fragmentation of the cartilage and sometimes the underlying bone within a joint. This is common in adolescents as the ends of the bones are not yet fully hardened.
Synovitis of the elbow joint is inflammation of the synovial membrane which surrounds the joint becomes inflamed.
Radiohumeral bursitis can also give similar symptoms to tennis elbow. This is inflammation of a bursa or small sack of fluid which sits between the tendon and the bone to help lubricate it.
Immediate first aid for elbow injuries
All acute and chronic injuries should be treated using the P.R.I.C.E. therapy principle. This should be applied at home for at least the first 2 - 3 days. P.R.I.C.E. stands for Protection, Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation.
- Protection - Protect the injury from further damage. Where applicable, use of an arm sling or elbow support is recommended.
- Rest - Refrain from using the arm/elbow.
- Ice - The topical application of ice or cold therapy to the area of the injury can assist in reducing the symptoms of pain and inflammation.
- Compression - The use of a compression support to the arm or elbow can can help reduce swelling.
- Elevation - Keeping the hand elevated above heart level whenever possible to help reduce swelling in the hand due to the effects of gravity. This is best achieved using an upper arm sling.
Read more on first aid for elbow injuries.
When should I see a doctor?
- Severe pain in the upper arm, elbow or forearm, especially after a fall.
- Severe swelling (oedema) around the injured area.
- An audible “crack” of the upper arm or forearm after a fall.
- A feeling when the bone at the elbow comes out of its joint (dislocates) – a common injury seen in young children that is caused accidentally (see above).
- Altered sensation in the hand or arm – such as a feeling of “pins and needles” (paresthesia) or a “loss of feeling” (anaesthesia) in the hand.
- Unable to complete your normal daily activities after the initial 72 hours.
Further medical assistance can be sought through either your local GP or a private clinician such as a physiotherapist, sports therapist, osteopath or chiropractor.
Read more about when you should seek medical advice for elbow injuries.