What causes elbow pain?

Elbow pain is caused by damage to the muscles, tendons, bones, or other tissues that make up the elbow joint. Generally, elbow pain is caused by inflammation or an injury, such as a blow to the elbow or a repetitive use injury. Less commonly, elbow pain may be related to an infection, a growth, a pinched nerve, or even cancer.

Common causes of elbow pain

Elbow pain is often caused by an injury to the elbow or an inflammation of the elbow including:

  • Arthritis
  • Bursitis (inflammation of a bursa sac that cushions a joint)
  • Bone fracture
  • Dislocation
  • Overuse injury
  • Sports injuries
  • Tendinitis (inflammation of a tendon)

Other causes of elbow pain

Elbow pain can also be caused by a variety of systemic conditions including:

  • Cyst (benign sac that contains fluid, air, or other materials)
  • Fibromyalgia (chronic condition that causes pain, stiffness and tenderness)
  • Infection in the elbow
  • Nerve entrapment or compression, such as of the ulnar nerve in the arm
  • Surgery

Serious or life-threatening causes of elbow pain

In some cases, elbow pain may be a symptom of a serious or life-threatening condition that should be evaluated immediately in an emergency setting. These include:

  • Serious bone fracture
  • Tumor

Questions for diagnosing the cause of elbow pain

To diagnose your condition, your doctor or licensed health care practitioner will ask you several questions related to your elbow pain including:

  • How long have you felt pain in your elbow?
  • Do you have any other symptoms?
  • Do you have arthritis?
  • Do you use your elbow frequently?
  • Have you had a recent injury?
  • What makes your elbow pain feel worse or better?

What are the potential complications of elbow pain?

Often, elbow pain is mild and will resolve on its own. Mild and moderate elbow pain may improve after treatment with cold compresses or pain medication. In serious cases, such as a fractured bone, more invasive treatment may be required.

Because elbow pain can be due to serious diseases, failure to seek treatment can result in serious complications and permanent damage. Once the underlying cause is diagnosed, it is important for you to follow the treatment plan that you and your health care professional design specifically for you to reduce the risk of potential complications including:

  • Paralysis
  • Permanent joint immobility
  • Permanent joint instability
  • Permanent loss of sensation
  • Permanent nerve damage (due to a pinched nerve), including paralysis
  • Permanent or chronic pain
  • Spread of cancer
  • Spread of infection


  1. Elbow injuries and disorders. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/elbowinjuriesanddisorders.html.
  2. Broken bone. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000001.htm.
  3. Kahan S, Miller R, Smith EG (Eds.). In A Page Signs & Symptoms, 2d ed. Philadelphia: Lippincott, Williams & Williams, 2009.

What is elbow pain?

Elbow pain refers to any type of pain or discomfort in the elbow joint of your arm. Anyone can experience elbow pain. Usually, elbow pain is caused by an injury, such as a blow to the elbow, or inflammation of the elbow joint.... Read more about elbow painintroduction


What other symptoms might occur with elbow pain?

Elbow pain may accompany other symptoms, which vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition.

Musculoskeletal symptoms that may occur along with elbow pain

Elbow pain may accompany other symptoms affecting the muscles, tendons, bones and cartilage including:

Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Annual Review Date: Aug 9, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2014 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

This Article is Filed Under: Bones, Joints and Muscles

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