Chiropractic care can be an excellent choice for relief of elbow pain. Not only does chiropractic care avoid the use of medications or surgeries, it aims to address the source of the pain as well as treat the symptoms. By actually fixing the structural components of your elbow (bones, muscles, etc.), you can experience both pain relief and prevention of future elbow problems.
There are three bones involved in the elbow joint: the radius (forearm), ulna (lower arm) and humerus (upper arm). The ball and socket style joint allows us to move the arm in a variety of ways, such as when we do bicep curls or when we turn the arm from palm facing down to palm facing up. The complexity of this joint means there are plenty of opportunities for strain and injury, irritation or inflammation. Usually pain in the elbow is caused by some combination of overuse, overexertion, genetic makeup and/or degenerative disease.
Common elbow conditions that can be treated by chiropractors include tennis elbow, golfer’s elbow, and bursitis. Tennis elbow, also known as lateral epicondylitis, is a kind of tendonitis that results from overuse of the muscles and tendons that connect the forearm muscles. The repetitive motion of tennis can lead to this condition and usually causes a small amount of pain at first. The pain gradually increases and can make shaking hands or squeezing objects difficult. It is unlikely to go away on its own, and chiropractic treatment will likely include rest and ice, exercises, massage, and joint manipulation.
Golfer’s elbow is similar to tennis elbow, but instead of the back or outside of the elbow, the condition usually affects the inside of the elbow. It is usually caused by repetitive stress from golf maneuvers, although golfer’s elbow can also arise from one violent swing. In addition to golfers, other people who use their elbows in a similar manner to golfers, such as carpenters, can experience this particular pain. Treatment for golfer’s elbow is very similar to that for tennis elbow.
Bursitis refers to inflammation or injury to the bursae, which are our joints’ shock absorbers. The elbow bursa is located at the end of the elbow, between the bones and loose skin. Bursitis is usually caused by trauma, prolonged pressure such as leaning on a desk, infection, or medical conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis. If left untreated, pain and difficulty moving the elbow can result. The usual treatment for bursitis is ice and ultrasound.
While we are usually unaware of the bursae in our bodies, when one of them becomes inflamed, the pain is hard to ignore. A bursa is a pouch filled with a small amount of lubricating fluid that provides cushioning between a bone and a tendon, ligament, muscle or skin, which allows them to slide smoothly over the bone as it moves. Bursae are located wherever tissue and bone meet. When the tissue of the bursa becomes swollen and inflamed it causes bursitis.
Though bursitis can occur anywhere in the body where bursae are located, the most common areas are the shoulder, hip, knee and elbow. Elbow bursitisis one of the more common types of this disorder and is common among students and tennis players. Though this may seem an unusual combination of people at risk for this condition, it makes sense when you realize that bursitis can be caused by excessive repetitive motion (as in hitting a tennis ball, vacuuming or hammering, for example) or putting frequent pressure on the bursa (like when a student leans on their elbows at their desk).
A traumatic injury to the area, such as in a fall or a car accident, can also lead to bursitis. If bacteria get inside the bursa via a wound, an infection may result, leading to heat, redness, fever, chills, swelling and pain, and excess fluid will collect in the bursa, causing a large bump to form around the elbow (think of Popeye). Additionally, those who suffer from gout, diabetes or rheumatoid arthritis are at greater risk of contracting the condition.
The bursa of the elbow lies just behind the point of bone called the olecranon (which is why it is technically referred to as olecranon bursitis). As the inflamed tissue of the bursa stretches and fills with excess fluid, it reduces the amount of space around the joint, so it becomes more difficult for the joint to move, and causes feelings of pain and stiffness.
The first treatment for bursitis is RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation). Rest the elbow as much as possible, being sure to keep as much pressure off it as possible. Elbow pads can be used to cushion the elbow, if necessary. Reduce swelling by applying ice and wrapping an elastic bandage around the elbow, and keep your arm elevated above your heart. You can take non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication (NSAIDs) to help decrease inflammation and reduce pain, and your doctor may prescribe antibiotics if the bursa is infected.
Sometimes excess fluid is removed via aspiration, where a needle is inserted into the bursa so the fluid can be drawn out. This is an in-office treatment and a sample of the fluid may be sent to a lab to be checked for infection. In rare cases, surgery may be recommended to remove the bursa entirely, but this is only when the bursitis has not responded to other conservative treatment and the condition has been prolonged. In time, a healthy bursa usually grows back. Elbow bursitis generally heals in a matter of weeks or months, depending on its severity. Your chiropractor can recommend exercises to help restore range of motion.