What to Do for Elbow Pain When Bending and Straightening

by | Feb 29, 2024

Tennis elbow is the pain when bending and straightening your arm. It is like a little reminder from your body that something is wrong with your elbow joint. It can sometimes make simple tasks like lifting, gripping, or even just moving your arm downright painful.

Considerable Causes of Tennis Elbow

The tendon connects muscles to bones. In the forearm, tendons link forearm muscles to the outer elbow bone. Tennis elbow often happens when a specific forearm muscle, called the extensor carpi radialis brevis (ECRB), gets injured. This muscle helps lift the wrist.

Repetitive stress weakens the ECRB muscle, causing tiny tears in its tendon where it attaches to the outside of the elbow. These tears lead to swelling and pain. Certain activities can trigger tennis elbow that involves twisting the wrist repeatedly. These activities are:

  • Playing tennis or badminton
  • Swimming
  • Golfing
  • Turning keys
  • Using tools like screwdrivers, hammers, or computers repeatedly.

How Do Doctors Diagnose Tennis Elbow?

A physical examination is required to diagnose tennis elbow. Your physician will inquire about your occupation, sports involvement, and symptom progression. They will further conduct various straightforward assessments to aid in diagnosis. Your physician might administer pressure to the area where the tendon connects to the bone to assess discomfort.

As you extend your wrist with the elbow straight and the wrist flexed towards the palm side, pain along the outer elbow can be experienced. Furthermore, your doctor can opt for imaging evaluations, such as X-rays or MRI scans, to exclude other conditions contributing to arm discomfort, including elbow arthritis. While not usually imperative for diagnosis, these tests can offer valuable insights.

Treatment for Elbow Pain Felt While Bending and Straightening

There are 3 types of treatments to cure tennis elbow. Following is a rundown of them:

  • Non-Surgical Treatments

    • Rest: Limiting activities that evoke symptoms to allow the affected tendons to heal.
    • Ice Therapy: Applying ice packs to the affected area to reduce inflammation and pain.
    • Pain Management: Over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen can help alleviate discomfort.
    • Physical Therapy: Specific exercises and stretches can strengthen the muscles surrounding the elbow and improve flexibility.
    • Brace or Strap: Wearing a brace or strap around the forearm can support and alleviate strain on the affected tendons.
    • Corticosteroid Injections: Injections of corticosteroids into the affected area can reduce inflammation and alleviate pain, although their long-term effectiveness may be limited.
  • Surgical Treatments

    Surgical treatments are considered if conservative measures fail to provide relief or if the condition is severe. Surgical options for tennis elbow include:

    • Open Surgery: Includes incision over the elbow to remove damaged tissue and repair the tendon.
    • Arthroscopic Surgery: A minimally invasive procedure with small incisions and a tiny camera to guide the surgical instruments in removing damaged tissue and repairing the tendon.
  • Exercises

    Exercises for tennis elbow focus on gradually strengthening and stretching the muscles and tendons in the forearm and elbow. The following movements can help:

    • Eccentric Wrist Extension: With a lightweight (e.g., dumbbell), lower the wrist slowly from a raised position.
    • Wrist Flexor Stretch: Extend the affected arm with the palm facing up, then gently pull the fingers back with the other hand until a stretch is felt in the forearm.
    • Wrist Extensor Stretch: Extend the affected arm with the palm facing down, then gently pull the fingers back with the other hand until a stretch is felt in the forearm.
    • Forearm Pronation and Supination: Hold a lightweight (e.g., dumbbell) with the elbow bent at 90 degrees and rotate the forearm to turn the palm up (supination) and then down (pronation).
    • Grip Strengthening Exercises: Squeezing a stress ball or using a grip strengthener can help strengthen the forearm muscles and improve grip strength.

Final Word

The elbow is probably the most neglected joint in our body. Some individuals recklessly use it during sports and daily activities. However, caring for it is as crucial as caring for any other joint. It is strong but still has its shortcomings.

Elbow pain when bending and straightening indicates tennis elbow. You can visit our orthopedic expert, Dr. Luo, at RANDY Y. LUO, MD, MBA. Our board-certified orthopedic surgeon specializes in hand and upper extremity surgery. Dial (713) 794-3307 to reach out.

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