Elbow Pain and Inflammation

Like many other joint problems, elbow swelling and pain can be a cause of a variety of problems. Other than direct physical injury, the most common cause of elbow swelling in adults is tendinitis and bursitis. You may notice a lot of tennis players developing elbow pain. The symptoms are very common to athletes who play racquet sports like badminton and tennis – and is commonly known as ‘Tennis Elbows’. This also affects golfers and hockey players who are likely to experience pain on the tendons inside the elbow.

Some of the very common diseases associated with a swollen elbow are:

  • Elbow Bursitis
  • Tennis Elbow (as mentioned)
  • Cubital Tunnel Syndrome
  • Distal Biceps Tendon Rupture
  • Golfer’s Elbow
  • Radial Tunnel Syndrome
  • Olecranon Fracture
  • Elbow dislocation
  • Monteggia Fracture

There is a type of elbow pain that is common to young children and infants that is called ‘Nursemaid’s Elbow’. Medically this condition is known as ‘Elbow Subluxation’, which means a slight dislocation of the elbow joint. This happens because of the constant pulling of the child’s arm, unceremoniously straightening the elbows. With improper child handling, this could result to the bones being stretched apart and the ligaments slipping and becoming trapped in between.

Signs and Symptoms

Elbow pain can run towards your shoulder and wrist. Sometimes it could even affect the other joints near the affected area as well. For proper diagnosis, your doctor may ask you a couple of questions in regards to the nature of the elbow pain including the:

Frequency of the pain – whether the pain is constant or only happens with movement

Severity of the pain – you will be asked to rate the pain from 1-10, 1 being the least painful and 10 being the most painful. Is the pain gradually increasing or does it remains constant?

What triggers the pain? Your doctor will also ask you what movements cause the pain to occur and also try to identify what activities you did before the pain was felt.

Treatments Used for Swollen Elbow

If the cause of the pain is direct injury, you can apply ice packs on the affected elbow for 15 minutes. Do this every hour if possible for the first 24 hrs. If the pain and swelling of the elbow is not relieved yet, you can resume applying ice packs every 3 hrs for 3 days after the injury.

Immobilize the Elbow

Pain can be triggered by constant flexion of the elbow so your doctor may ask to have an ACE bandage wrap around your elbow or a splint to keep it immobilized. The splints should not be removed until your doctor says so. While your arm is in a splint, try to exercise your fingers every morning to check for proper circulation. If your hand appears pale and numb, this may mean that the bandage over your elbow is too tight and will need to be loosened. Seek medical attention immediately.


There will be a need for complete rest and relaxation of the affected elbow for at least 2 days. The exercise comes later, what is important is that you take care of the swollen joint for the first few days. If possible, refrain from repeating the same activity that caused the swollen elbow for at least 3 weeks. After the initial resting period, you may gradually increase the level of your activity to strengthen the muscles on your elbow.


Your doctor will most likely prescribe 2 drug classifications – anti-inflammatory and analgesics. Examples are acetaminophen and ibuprofen.


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