Elbow pain getting you bent out of shape? 5 ways to manage it

Hiral Singh (28) is an avid state-level tennis player. However, she had to sit out the last few tournaments because of a severe elbow condition she developed over the years.

If you’re a sports enthusiast, especially racquet or contact sports, chances are you are no stranger to elbow injuries. This is because every action is dependent on the elbow joint, which allows you to hurl, lift, swing, and throw.

Your elbow joint is made up of the upper arm bone and two forearm bones. A cartilage on the end of each one helps them slide against each other and absorb shocks. The ligaments keep them in place and the tendons connect them to muscles. If you perform an action that stretches, breaks, or wears the muscles, tendons, bones or ligaments, you will experience pain in that area.

A few common elbow conditions are:

1. Tennis Elbow:

A type of tendinitis, it occurs when the tendons outside the elbow get inflamed. Repetitive arm action while playing a sport (tennis, badminton, squash) or when working in certain professions (carpentry, painting, plumbing, cooking) can affect the tendons.

2. Golfer’s Elbow:

Another form of tendinitis, it irritates the inner tendons in the elbow. The constant throwing motion in baseball or the downward swing of a golf club can cause this condition. Jerky wrist movements, particularly, can trigger pain in the elbow.

3. Strains and Sprains:

When you stretch your muscles too far or tear them, it’s called a strain. If you tear your ligaments, you get a sprain. Putting too much pressure on your elbow muscles, especially while lifting heavy objects, or playing a sport, can result in a strain. Athletes who throw, swing or play contact sports commonly experience elbow strains.

4. Osteoarthritis:

This condition affects the cartilage, or the connective tissue found in the joints. An elbow injury or wear and tear of the joints may damage the connective tissue. Often, the condition is associated with difficulty in bending the elbow, swelling, stiffness, and a grating sound during movement.

5. Abrasion Injuries:

Injuries develop over a period of time due to wear and tear or overuse. This may be a sports injury or something that is incurred in a work setting.

6. Bursitis:

Bursitis may develop in an accident or through an infection. Your joints have small fluid-filled sacs that help cushion your bones, tendons, and muscles. They also act as a lubricant to prevent friction between the skin and bone. However, bursitis, also called student’s elbow, can become painful when swollen or inflamed, and cause difficulty in moving the elbow. 

7. Trapped Nerves:

This condition can cause a burning sensation or numbness in the elbow. It happens when the nerves in the elbow get compressed.

8. Stress Fractures:

If one of the arm bones crack owing to overuse, you get a stress fracture. Sports persons who repeat the throwing motion, may get them in the elbow. A pain is usually felt while throwing.

How do you treat elbow pain?

Overuse and injury are the major causes of elbow injuries and pain. You can follow a number of preventive measures and home treatments to relieve any elbow condition you may have developed over a period of time.

1. Stop Repetitive Tasks: First and foremost, it’s important you stop doing the action that caused the elbow condition. If you are a tennis or golf player, try another sport such as swimming, jogging or football instead. If your profession is causing the condition, such as carpentry or painting, try talking to an occupational therapist, who will suggest methods to adapt or change your routine motions without further hurting the elbow.

2. Adopt Correct Technique: If the sport you’re playing is causing the condition, then it’s important that you change your technique. Using the right sports equipment, racquets with proper tension, and elbow padding or splints may help ease the pain or injury.

3. Rest: It’s recommended that you take a vacation from whatever activity you have been doing and give your elbow complete rest.

4. Heat Therapy: Treating an elbow condition with the careful application of heat therapy is important to speed up the healing process. Applying a heat pack to the affected area can ease pain and stiffness because it expands and relaxes the muscles, thus improving the blood circulation in the area. The more the blood that flows into the area, the faster the healing process.

Although application of ice packs to the inflamed or swollen area is also a much-used remedy, cold therapy is more of a temporary solution. You should apply ice packs for 15-20 minutes every two hours during the initial two or three days after you first develop the symptoms. Cold treatment will reduce the swelling in the area and provide immediate relief from pain. Do not overdo cold therapy, as too much cold can give you frostbites and damage the skin tissues.

Once you achieve some temporary respite through cold therapy, it’s suggested you switch to heat therapy as a long-term remedy and care. Dip a towel in hot water, wring it, and apply it to your elbow. Do it four or five times until your elbow is acclimatised to the heat. Next, switch on your heat pad, such as a SandPuppy Strappr and apply it directly to the elbow, wrapping it around snugly. If you apply heat to your elbow longer than the recommended time, you can damage your muscles by expanding them too much or sustaining skin burns. The SandPuppy Strappr is an ideal option as a heating pad if you are looking for a wireless and portable device that can be used on the move. Its easy strapping mechanism allows you to wrap it around all kinds of joints such as the neck, elbow, knee or ankle. Further, its switch-operated heat control allows you to adjust the intensity according to your comfort levels. This feature prevents skin burns.

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