The elbow may swell up all of a sudden, soon after an injury, or it could be a chronic problem which is bothering you for quite some time now. An inflammation around the elbow joint often gives a lot of pain and discomfort. The swelling makes the joint stiff and tight, and sometimes, it feels warm to the touch. In such a condition, the range of motion of the joint becomes limited which badly affects the normal activities of hand.
The causes behind swelling can vary from injury or overuse to some underlying health conditions. The most prevalent causes that can trigger the inflammation are as follows:
Injury: The elbow is prone to injuries during sports activities, exercises, abnormal twisting of the hand, a bad fall and so on. As a result, the underlying soft tissues of ligaments or tendons suffer damage or are overstretched and you get a swollen elbow. If the bones are dislocated or fractured because of a traumatic injury, inflammation occurs in the area.
Arthritis: Pain and swelling is a symptom of various forms of arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis, gout, etc. Arthritis is a type of autoimmune disease which can lead to swelling of the tissues around the elbow joint. In gouty arthritis, the painful condition arises because of uric acid build up in the joint.
Tendinitis: The tendons are responsible for connecting the muscles with the bones. When these tendons get irritated and inflamed for some reasons, this condition is known as tendinitis. It mostly results from repetitive stress on the joint while doing the same joint movements. Golfer's elbow and tennis elbow are the two forms that affect the elbow. In tennis elbow, the outer part is inflamed and in golfer's elbow the inner side becomes swollen. Activities like playing racket sports, golf, painting, use of plumbing tools increase the risk of these problems.
Bursitis: Bursae is a fluid-filled sac and is present near the joints. It acts as a cushion in between the bones and tendons. In bursitis, the bursa swells up and is filled up with an excess amount of fluid which leads to swollen elbow. Repetitive movements are the main cause behind bursitis.
Other Causes: Bacterial or viral infection in the joint, also known as septic arthritis can be responsible for the swelling. Growth of tumors, nerve damage, connective tissue diseases that cause skin inflammation, etc. are the other triggers. Some rare causes are diabetes, drug abuse, and side effects of certain medicines.
- When the elbow is swollen, the first thing to be done is to give proper rest to the affected hand. This will ease off the pressure from the joint and swelling may go down without any treatment.
- If the patient is unable to keep the elbow at rest, then braces or a splint should be used to keep it in an immobilized condition.
- Application of ice can have a soothing effect. Wrap the ice cubes in a pack and place it over the inflamed area for 15 minutes. Then take a break and reapply it after an hour or so. Repeat the application a number of times throughout the day.
- Anti-inflammatory medicines are usually prescribed to relieve the annoying symptoms. However, prolonged use of such medicines have adverse effects on health, and hence, should be avoided as far as possible.
- When there is an excessive accumulation of fluid due to bursitis, doctors drain the fluid out using a needle.
- If the inflammation refuses to subside despite all efforts, then doctors may opt for surgery. During the surgery, either the affected bursa or the damaged tissues are removed in order to reduce the swelling and improve joint mobility.
Do not massage the swollen part of an elbow. This is because the pressure exerted during a massage can cause harm to the adjoining tissues and lead to a permanent damage to the entire hand. Even after the swelling subsides, you should avoid leaning on your elbows, as any extra weight or force can lead to swelling.
Disclaimer: This HealthHearty article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.