Medical Q&As

Painful elbow - possible causes?

For the last week or so I have had a sore elbow and within the last few days the pain has moved down my arm into my hand. I have less gripping power in my hand and quite a lot of pain. What could this be and how can I help the pain?

It is possible that you have either a tennis elbow or a golfer’s elbow. Both of these conditions cause pain in the elbow area that radiates into the hand and can be associated with weakness of grip. Golfer’s elbow causes pain at the front of the bone that we colloquially refer to as the funny bone. Tennis elbow occurs on the outer opposite side of the elbow joint. The conditions are very similar despite their separate locations. The essential problem is that acute inflammation occurs at the point of attachment of the forearm muscles to the elbow. There are two major sets of muscles in the forearm, one on the front and the other on the back. These muscle taper towards the wrist where they form slender tendons that are attached to the various fingers. One set of muscles flexes the wrist and fingers and these are called the flexor group of muscles. The flexors are attached at the elbow to the medial epicondyle of the humerus or upper arm bone. The medial epicondyle is the anatomical name for the funny bone. Golfer’s elbow involves the point of attachment of the flexor group to the medial epicondyle. Tennis elbow involves the attachment of the extensor muscles that are attached to the lateral epicondyle, which is on the opposite side of the elbow to the medial epicondyle. The extensor muscles run down the back of the forearm and are similar in appearance to the flexor muscles and they also taper into tendons that are attached to the backs of the fingers. The extensor muscles oppose the movement of the flexors and extend the wrist joint and fingers. You can read more about tennis and golfer’s elbow including information on remedies by following these links: the article on tennis elbow is located at http://www.irishhealth.com/index.html?level=4&id=2263 and the article on golfer’s elbow is located at http://www.irishhealth.com/index.html?level=4&id=2264. Both articles contain explanatory diagrams. I should stress that both elbow conditions occur more commonly in people that do not engage in sport.