Elbow Injuries

Common and some not-so-common elbow injuries.


As with other joints, injuries to the elbow can result from overuse or a blow, fall or other sudden trauma. Regardless of the cause, the result can be pain and difficulty doing daily activities. Here are some of the more common elbow injuries.

  • Tennis elbow (lateral epicondylitis). Tennis elbow is a term for a condition in which the tendons that join the forearm muscles at the elbow become inflamed and painful due to overuse. As the name suggests, playing tennis is a common cause of the condition, however, other activities that involve repetitive use of the elbow also can lead to tennis elbow.
  • Olecranon fractures. Although any of the three bones that meet to form the elbow can break, the most easily fractured bone of the elbow is the olecranon, the point that sticks out when you bend your elbow at a 90-degree angle. Unlike the humerus and radius, which are protected by muscles and other soft tissue, the olecranon lies just beneath the skin, leaving it vulnerable to bumps and falls.
  • Distal humerus fracture. A fracture of the lower end of the upper arm bone where it meets the radius to form the elbow is called a distal humerus fracture. This type of fracture is not common, but can occur as the result of a direct blow to the elbow or from falling with an outstretched arm.
  • Bursitis. Inflammation of the bursa (a small fluid-filled sac that allows the skin to move freely over the underlying bone) at the tip of the elbow can cause pain, swelling and stiffness of the elbow. Bursitis can have a number of causes, including a blow to the elbow, prolonged leaning on the elbow on hard surfaces, infection or medical conditions, including rheumatoid arthritis and gout.
  • Biceps tendon tear. When tendons that attach the biceps muscle at the front of the upper arm to the bones in the elbow are torn, rotating the arm to make the palms face upward becomes difficult or impossible. Biceps tendon tears can occur when the elbow is forced to straighten against resistance.
  • Dislocations. A dislocation is a separation of the joint surfaces where they normally meet. While dislocations of the elbow are less common than those of some other joints, they can occur as the result of a force sent through the arm, such as falling on an outstretched hand. Elbow dislocations can be complete, meaning the joint surfaces are completely separated, or partial. A partial dislocation also is called a subluxation.

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