Pain at the back of the elbow
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Below we outline the three most common causes of pain at the back of the elbow which are posterior impingement, students elbow (olecranon bursitis) and triceps tendon inflammation or strain.
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Common causes of pain at the back of the elbow
Students elbow or olecranon bursitis as it is known is inflammation of the bursa at the back of the elbow. A bursa is a small sack of fluid which sits between a tendon and the bone in order to protect the tendon and help lubricate movement. Symptoms include a painful swelling at the back of the elbow which is painful at rest as well as during exercise. In severe cases there may be limited movement in the elbow. Olecranon bursitis is caused by repetitive impact or pressure on the elbow which causes the bursa to become inflamed.
Triceps tendinitis or triceps tendinopathy which is probably a more accurate term to describe pain resulting from inflammation or degeneration of the triceps tendon as it inserts into the back of the elbow. Symptoms include pain at the back of the elbow and tenderness when pressing in. There will be pain when straightening the elbow against resistance and pain when attempting pushing exercises such as press ups. Over use is a common cause and in particular over loading the triceps muscle for example in a triceps extension weight training exercise where the elbow is bent too much. Triceps tendinopathy can also occur from a triceps tendon strain which has failed to heal properly.
Posterior impingement is when small pieces of bone grow in the joint preventing a full range or normal movement. This can occur in children who repeatedly over straighten (or hyper-extend) their elbow joints. Or it can occur in older patients where the cause is more likely to be osteoarthritis. The patient may find it difficult or painful to straighten the elbow.