Specialized Care for Elbow Problems

Arthritis, injury and repetitive motions are the primary causes of elbow pain, stiffness and limited range of motion. At Summit Orthopedic Specialists’ Upper Extremity Center, our highly trained surgical team has experience diagnosing and treating a broad range of elbow problems, such as tennis elbow, bursitis and arthritis.

Fellowship-trained orthopedic surgeon Dr. Scott Tanaka utilizes the latest conservative treatments, as well as minimally invasive and traditional elbow surgery to treat both common and complex elbow conditions and injuries. Dr. Tanaka’s specialized hand and upper extremity training at one of the top programs in the country allows him to utilize many innovative techniques to relieve pain and speed recovery time.

Elbow Conditions and Treatments

Summit diagnoses and treats a wide range of elbow problems. Some of these injuries and conditions are listed below.

Cubital Tunnel Syndrome

Cubital tunnel syndrome is compression or pinching of the ulnar nerve on the inner side of the elbow. Symptoms include tingling and numbness down the forearm into the ring and small fingers, and in advanced cases, loss of function of the hand, weakness and clumsiness.

Most cases are treated non-surgically through splinting and activity modification. In more serious cases, surgery may be performed to relieve pressure on the ulnar nerve.

Distal Biceps Tendon Rupture

A distal biceps tendon rupture occurs when the tendon attaching the biceps muscle in the upper arm to the elbow is torn. Although not a common injury, it typically occurs when lifting a very heavy object. When the injury occurs, you may hear and feel a pop directly in front of the elbow, followed by pain, swelling, bruising and weakness.

While the injury is usually treated with surgery to restore function, non-surgical measures include a sling and anti-inflammatory medication. People who need normal arm strength get best results with surgery to reconnect the tendon as soon as possible.

Elbow Arthritis

Elbow arthritis occurs when the cartilage surface of the elbow becomes damaged or worn, causing pain, stiffness and swelling. It can result from previous injury, such as a fracture, or from degeneration of the cartilage with high demand activity. It is also commonly seen in inflammatory arthritis conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis.

For the early stages of elbow arthritis, non-surgical treatments such as medication, steroid injections and other types of injections, can be effective in relieving pain and delaying the need for surgical intervention. Surgical treatments include arthroscopy, or for more advanced arthritis, total elbow replacement.

Elbow Bursitis

Elbow bursitis is a condition in which swelling and inflammation occur in a small fluid-filled sack at the tip of the elbow. The condition can occur from a hard blow to the elbow, prolonged pressure from leaning on the tip of the elbow, infection, and certain medical conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis and gout.

Non-surgical treatments include draining the fluid from the bursa, elbow pads, and medications. In some cases, surgery is necessary to remove the inflamed bursa.

Elbow Dislocation

Elbow dislocations usually happen during a hard fall onto an outstretched arm or in a car accident, when the bones within the elbow are pushed out of place. Severe pain, a visible deformity, bruising and swelling, an inability to move the elbow, and tingling in the forearm or hand are symptoms.

An elbow dislocation should be considered an emergency. The immediate goal is to return the elbow to its normal alignment. The long-term goal is to restore stability and motion of the elbow. For more complex dislocations, surgery may be necessary to restore bony alignment and repair ligaments.

Elbow Fracture

An elbow fracture is a break in one of the three bones in the elbow – the upper arm bone or one of the two forearm bones. Fractures most often occur when someone lands hard on their arm, causing severe pain, swelling and bruising, a visible deformity, and difficulty moving the elbow.

When bone alignment is adequate, a splint or cast may be all that is needed. Complex fractures (several breaks to the bone), may require fixation devices (plates, pins and/or screws) to hold the broken bones together.

Elbow Injuries in the Throwing Athlete

Overhand throwing places very high stress on the elbow. Over time, baseball pitchers and other throwing athletes can develop overuse injuries from throwing during practices and games. Problems most often occur at the inside of the elbow because considerable force is concentrated over the inner elbow during throwing.

Treatment for throwing injuries in the elbow usually begins with a short period of rest. Physical therapy and anti-inflammatory medication can help relieve pain. An athlete may benefit from an evaluation of throwing mechanics in order to correct body positioning that puts too much stress on the elbow. Surgery may be considered if painful symptoms are not relieved by nonsurgical treatments.

Osteochondritis Dissecans

Osteochondritis dissecans involves a loss of blood supply to part of the cartilage within the elbow. It’s thought to be related to repeated impact to the elbow and is often found in young athletes ages 10 – 18 involved in gymnastics or baseball (pitching). Symptoms include pain, catching and locking when bending, a popping or cracking noise, swelling, tenderness, and reduced range of motion.

Non-surgical treatment includes rest, physical therapy, bracing or splinting, and injections. Depending upon the injury and size, as well as the location of the cartilage involved, the condition may be treated with surgery arthroscopically or open.

Tennis and Golfer’s Elbow (Epicondylitis)

Tennis elbow and golfer’s elbow are painful conditions that result from overuse or repetitive stress to the tendons of the elbow. Symptoms include pain on the outer elbow (tennis elbow) or inner elbow (golfer’s elbow), pain that may start suddenly or gradually, weakness of grip, and pain with elbow or wrist movement.

The condition can usually be treated non-surgically with activity modification, bracing, anti-inflammatory medication, stretching and strengthening exercises, and injections. If symptoms don’t improve, your doctor may recommend surgery to remove damaged tissue.

Surgical Treatments for Elbow Problems

Should you need surgery, our surgeons are skilled in the latest surgical procedures, including:

  • Elbow arthroscopy
  • Fracture surgery
  • Surgery for tennis elbow and golfer’s elbow
  • Total elbow replacement

If you are experiencing elbow pain, please call Summit Orthopedic Specialists at (916) 965-4000.