Harvard Health Letter

Quick fixes for aching elbows



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Rest, heat, stretching, and bracing are effective ways to find relief right now.

The elbow is a funny joint. It is home to your funny bone—your ulnar nerve—which hurts if it's hit a certain way. And the elbow is often overlooked as an important joint to help us maintain our independence. "Many older adults may not think much about the elbow, because it's not a weight-bearing joint and because it doesn't often develop arthritis or require joint replacement in the older adult population," says physical therapist Paige Norby of Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital. But elbow pain can keep you from getting dressed, cooking dinner, and anything else that requires the use of your arm. Taking care of this joint helps ensure that you can care for yourself.

Causes of elbow pain

The elbow is made up of bones, muscles, ligaments (which connect bones), and tendons (which connect muscles to bone). The most common cause of elbow pain is inflammation of one or both of the elbow's two tendons. This is called tendinitis, and it is often the result of overuse. "Repetitive movements from everyday work, household chores, golf, or tennis can affect the muscles above and below the elbow and cause tendinitis," says Norby. Tendinitis pain travels from the elbow to the upper arm or to the lower arm.

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