The most common term for pain on the outside of the elbow is Tennis Elbow (Lateral 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 outer elbow pain. The most common causes are inflammation or degeneration of the tendon where the wrist extensor muscles attach to the elbow. It is known as Tennis elbow, lateral epicondylitis or extensor tendinopathy, but it is more likely to be caused by overuse or work-related activities involving a lot of gripping.
The main symptom is a pain about 1 to 2 cm down from the bony part on the outside of the elbow, known as the lateral epicondyle. In addition, there may be an associated weakness in the muscles around the forearm and wrist and this may cause difficulty in performing simple tasks with weakness gripping things, opening a door handle or shaking hands with someone. Read more on:
Radial tunnel syndrome, radial nerve entrapment or posterior interrosseous nerve entrapment as it is sometimes called, is when the radial nerve gets compressed or restricted in the tunnel it passes through. This elbow injury is more often caused by rotation of the wrist/lower arm rather than repetitive extension like tennis elbow, but the symptoms of both these injuries can be similar.
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. This elbow injury can be caused by a direct impact to the joint or arm, with some common symptoms being elbow pain, swelling and restricted movement.
The main symptoms of Radiohumeral bursitis are a pain, tenderness and a limited range of movement in the elbow. the joint will be swollen and redness can occur in some cases, It may cause a fever if an infection is present.
The type of injury may be caused by a direct blow to the elbow or forearm, arthritis, gout or acute infection but frequently the cause is unknown.
Rest the inflamed area as much as possible. If you must resume normal activity immediately, wear a sling until the pain becomes more bearable. To prevent a frozen elbow, begin normal, slow joint movement as soon as possible. Painkillers and anti-inflammatory drugs may be prescribed or Corticosteroid injections into the bursa to reduce inflammation.
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. This elbow injury can be caused and exacerbated by throwing sports, so resting from this activity can help to ease the pain. Read more on the symptoms, causes, and treatments.
Synovitis of the elbow joint (radiohumeral joint) is inflammation of the synovial membrane which surrounds the joint. Symptoms include elbow joint pain and redness over the area. However, synovitis is itself usually caused by another condition, including an injury to the joint or an illness like cancer. Because of this, synovitis can indicate a serious problem so getting medical advice is essential.
Symptoms include pain and swelling with stiffness in the joint. There will be an increased skin temperature and redness over the area. When a patient presents with suspected synovitis, they may be referred for scans such as an MRI, and fluid may be taken from the knee and sent for testing.
Pain on the outside of the elbow may have been caused by or referred from the upper back or neck.