Designed to allow the arm to bend and pivot, the elbow helps you bring food to your mouth, throw a baseball, and hug your friends and family. When this joint or the bones and tissue surrounding the elbow become damaged, the pain and loss of function that commonly result can make occupational and recreational activities difficult or impossible. Furthermore, lasting injuries can affect your well-being and overall quality of life. At the Hand Center of Nevada, Dr. George Gluck, Dr. James Vahey, and Dr. Alan Micev, our board-certified orthopaedic surgeons, can diagnose and treat a wide array of elbow and arm conditions utilizing the latest minimally invasive methods. By prioritizing exceptional patient care, we can help you return to your desired routine faster and more safely than ever before.
The following information is provided as a helpful resource on common elbow concerns. If you’re experiencing pain, discomfort, swelling, or stiffness in your elbow or have additional questions, contact us today for more information or to schedule a consultation with one of our experienced physicians.
- Biceps Tendon Rupture
- Elbow Dislocation
- Throwing Injuries
- Olecranon Fractures
- Radial Head Fractures
- Distal Humerus Fractures
- Olecranon Bursitis
- Tennis Elbow
- Cubital Tunnel Syndrome/Ulnar Nerve Entrapment
Biceps Tendon Rupture
The biceps muscle not only allows you to bend and straighten your elbow but also to twist your forearm so the palm of your hand faces up or down. The muscle is connected to the shoulder via two tendons and the elbow by one, and in the event the muscle becomes detached due to a tendon tear (rupture), you will likely notice a “pop” followed by swelling, bruising, muscle weakness, and potentially a bulge from the muscle retracting away from the injury. Partial tears often can be treated non-surgically; however, ruptures can significantly limit strength and mobility. Minimally invasive surgery can help to reattach the affected tendon or tendons and restore function.
The elbow joint is made up of three bones: the humerus, radius, and ulna (the former is the upper arm and the latter two make up the forearm). Dislocation in this joint is uncommon and usually occurs as a result of breaking a fall with your hands or in a car accident setting. This condition is highly visible and painful, and if this issue arises, medical treatment should be sought out immediately. In minor dislocations, non-surgical treatment, called a reduction maneuver, can help to reposition the joint. In more complex injuries, surgery will be necessary to restore alignment and repair torn ligaments and other tissues.
Commonly referred to as “Little Leaguer’s Elbow,” medial apophysitis is a throwing injury that can develop as a result of repetitive motion. Pain typically emanates from the small bump located on the inside of the elbow. Early treatment of this condition is recommended, as tissue damage and the disruption of normal bone growth can occur. If there is pain on the outside of the elbow, however, you may have osteochondritis dissecans, another common throwing disorder that can damage the still developing bones of the arm. Rest, ice, and physical therapy may be sufficient if the symptoms are caught early. In rare cases, surgery to remove bone fragments or reattach ligaments may be necessary.
The bony tip of the elbow is called the olecranon, and as you can tell when you touch this area, there is little cushioning to protect the bone from damage. As a result, fractures to this area can occur relatively easily, which will cause sudden, intense pain, swelling, reduced range of motion, bruising, and numbness in one or more fingers. Sometimes splinting, physical therapy, and long periods of rest can effectively treat the injury. However, if the fracture is displaced or bone has gone through skin (increasing the risk for infection), surgery will likely be required to realign the bone and address any other concerns.
Radial Head Fractures
The forearm is made up of two bones, the radius and the ulna. When the radius is fractured, the most commonly affected area will be the radius head, which is located near the elbow. This can happen as a result of a fall where you break the impact with your hands, for instance, and symptoms may include pain on the outside of the elbow, swelling, difficulty turning the arm, and difficulty bending and straightening the arm. There are varying degrees of severity, type 1, 2, and 3, and each one typically requires different treatment. If bone fragments are present or if tendons are torn, surgery may be necessary. Our skilled surgeons can help you determine the best course of action for your condition.
Distal Humerus Fractures
The humerus is the bone that makes up the upper arm, and the distal end of this bone is where the upper arm meets the elbow. Fractures to this bone are quite rare, and once this injury occurs you will have very limited arm movement. Furthermore, you may feel intense pain when moving the joint, and you typically will see swelling, bruising, or even bones protruding from the skin. Tenderness, stiffness, and instability are also common. Immediate treatment is recommended, though in some cases non-surgical methods may be adequate to recover with time. If there is bone displacement, however, surgery may be required to reposition or repair the tissue.
As stated in the section on olecranon fractures, the olecranon is the knobby bone at the end of the elbow. Although you can’t feel much cushion between the bone and the skin, there is a small sack of slippery fluid called the bursa, which remains flat when healthy but can become swollen if irritated, leading to fluid retention, which is called bursitis. The causes of this condition include a blow to the olecranon, prolonged pressure, infection, or arthritis. Initially, swelling is the only symptom, but with time, pain may develop and the swelling could eventually limit movement or even become infected. In many cases, the fluid can be drained and antibiotics prescribed if there is an infection. If there is no infection present, elbow pads, anti-inflammatory medication, and lifestyle changes often can address the concern. Surgery will only be necessary in the event non-surgical treatment is unsuccessful.
Typically caused by overuse, tennis elbow, medically referred to as lateral epicondylitis, can be a painful and debilitating condition that occurs as a result of inflammation of the tendons in the elbow. Symptoms include a weak grip and pain or a burning sensation on the outer part of the elbow, and these concerns may worsen with activity (and not just when playing sports). Rest, anti-inflammatory medication, physical therapy, and possibly a brace can help to treat tennis elbow in the vast majority of cases. If you don’t experience relief after 6-12 months of non-surgical treatment, Dr. Gluck, Dr. Vahey or Dr. Micev may recommend a minimally invasive surgical approach.
Cubital Tunnel Syndrome/Ulnar Nerve Entrapment
Traveling from your neck to your ring and pinky fingers, the ulnar nerve is one of the three main nerves found in your arm. In general, when this tissue becomes pinched, irritated, or constricted, the condition is known as ulnar nerve entrapment. If the concern stems from the elbow, this is known as cubital tunnel syndrome. Numbness and tingling, or a feeling of the hand having “fallen asleep,” are common symptoms of this issue. You may also experience a weakened grip. While the cause is unknown, arthritis, prior elbow fracture, cysts near the elbow joint, and repetitive motion of the elbow are considered risk factors. Cubital tunnel syndrome can lead to muscle wasting in rare cases, a serious problem. However, in most instances non-surgical treatment can effectively alleviate the compression. If pressure is significant, we offer a range of surgical options to release the nerve.
Healthy function of your elbow is important to performing both occupational and recreational activities, and we will work with you to ensure you receive the best possible treatment. For more information about elbow conditions and treatment options, or if you would like to schedule a consultation with Dr. Gluck, Dr. Vahey, or Dr. Micev, please contact us today.