What is Elbow Pain?
Pain in the elbow, wrist, or hand can be a short-term condition due to an injury, or it can be a long-lasting, chronic condition due to illness or other factors. The pain can range from mild to severe, and it can be constant or intermittent (coming and going at different times during the day.) In addition to pain, you might experience other symptoms such as numbness or tingling in the extremities, especially the fingers. Elbow, wrist, and hand pain can make it difficult to carry out work tasks, or even day-to-day tasks at home, if it is severe enough.
Dr. Ried explaining Elbow Pain
How Physical Therapy Can Help Elbow Pain
The good news is that no matter what the cause of your elbow, wrist, or hand pain is, physical therapy can likely help to restore your range of motion, relieve the pain, and get you back to your regular life. In fact, physical therapy can often help people avoid the need for surgery for conditions like carpal tunnel syndrome. Your physical therapist will work to create an individualized course of therapy to treat your elbow, wrist, or hand pain. This can include a wide range of treatments, such as manual therapy, heat and ice treatments, ultrasound, and specific stretching exercises.
Causes of Elbow Pain
There are so many bones, tendons, muscles, and joints from the elbow to the hands that pain can come from a wide variety of causes. In some conditions, the cause is obvious – if you have “tennis elbow,” for example, you can probably guess how you obtained that injury! For other conditions, the cause might not be so obvious. Here are some of the more common types of elbow, wrist, and hand conditions that can cause pain:
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS): According to the American Physical Therapy Association, CTS impacts about 5 percent of all Americans. The carpal tunnel protects the median nerve on the inside of your wrist, as well as the tendons used to bend the fingers. When this tunnel becomes constricted, it causes pain in the nerve that can impact your entire arm. It can be caused by injury or by repetitive job-related use, such as assembly-line work or driving heavy machinery.
Cubital Tunnel Syndrome: This is the second-most common form of nerve damage that leads to elbow, wrist, and hand pain. It’s caused by repetitive pressure on the ulnar nerve inside the elbow, otherwise known as your “funny bone.” Pressure on the cubital tunnel in the elbow puts pressure on that nerve, leading to intense pain, tingling and numbness.
Arthritis: Arthritis impacts approximately 53 million Americans and is the most common form of disability in the United States, according to the Arthritis Foundation. Arthritis can be caused by repetitive motion or an injury that impacts the cartilage in the joints of the elbow, wrist, or hand.
Elbow Bursitis: This condition is also known as “student’s elbow,” although “tennis elbow” and “golfer’s elbow” are sometimes used to describe it. The bursa is a fluid-filled sac at the end of the elbow that cushions the elbow bone (the ulna). When that sac is compressed due to injury or repetitive motion (such as swinging a tennis racket), it can lead to pain and swelling.
Sprains or strains to the elbow, wrist, or hand can also lead to sharp pain. These are the most common types of sports injuries.