Medically reviewed on January 11, 2018
Elbow pain usually isn't serious, but because you use your elbow in so many ways, elbow pain can be very frustrating. Your elbow is a complex joint; it allows you to both extend and flex, as well as rotate your hand and forearm. Since most movements are a combination of these actions, you may sometimes find it difficult to describe exactly which movement brings on the pain.
Elbow pain is often caused by overuse. Many sports, hobbies and jobs require repetitive hand, wrist or arm movements. Elbow pain may occasionally be due to arthritis, but in general, your elbow joint is much less prone to wear-and-tear damage than are many other joints.
Common causes of elbow pain include:
- Broken arm
- Bursitis (joint inflammation)
- Dislocated elbow
- Golfer's elbow
- Osteoarthritis (disease causing the breakdown of joints)
- Osteochondritis dissecans
- Rheumatoid arthritis (inflammatory joint disease)
- Sprains and strains
- Stress fractures
- Tennis elbow
- Throwing injuries
- Trapped nerves
When to see a doctor
Seek emergency care if you have:
- An obvious deformity in your elbow
- A protruding bone
Call your doctor right away if you have:
- Severe pain, swelling and bruising around the joint
- Trouble moving your elbow normally, using your arm or turning your arm from palm up to palm down and vice versa
Schedule an office visit if you have:
- Elbow pain that doesn't improve after home care
- Pain that occurs even when you're not using your arm
- Increasing redness, swelling or pain in the injured area
Most elbow pain improves with simple home treatments, such as:
- Protect. Keep the area from getting further injury.
- Rest. Avoid the activity that caused your injury.
- Ice. Place an ice pack on the sore area for 15 to 20 minutes three times a day.
- Compression. Use a compression bandage to reduce swelling.
- Elevation. Keep your arm elevated to help reduce swelling.