As previously discussed, the elbow is a major joint in the body, used for many daily functions and therefore seeing a lot of wear and tear. For instance, the biceps and triceps muscles are the major muscles that connect to the elbow, allowing it to flex and extend, respectively. One result of this centrality is that pain in the elbow can be caused by problems elsewhere in the body, particularly in areas that function in tandem with it, such as the rest of the arm, the shoulders and the neck.
The advanced network of nerves extending from the brain and spine throughout the rest of the body sometimes become compressed, which can be quite painful; this nerve compression– a pinched nerve – can result from repetitive motions, maintaining one position for an extended period of time, and from weakening of spinal discs. It can cause pain to radiate from the source to other areas of the body: for example, a pinched nerve in the neck may cause pain in the shoulder (leading to pain in the elbow), or directly to the elbow itself. This is one possible cause of Tennis elbow, for instance.
Damage to the wrist, such as Carpal tunnel syndrome, can lead to pain in the elbow; this syndrome, caused by pressure on the median nerve of the wrist, can be caused by underlying conditions such as arthritis and diabetes, but it is more often result of repetitive or improper motions with the wrist, such as prolonged computer usage or work with tools, particularly vibrating tools. The swelling and pain of Carpal tunnel syndrome can lead to overcompensation in the elbow, which results in pain of its own.
Problems in the shoulder, another major joint connected to the elbow, can also lead to pain there. A pinched nerve in the shoulder may send pain to the elbow. Osteoarthritis of the shoulder, common even in young people because it can develop as a result of an injury, can also cause elbow pain, either by extension or by limiting the range of motion and therefore causing a change in the use of the elbow.
When considering your elbow pain, take into account discomfort, pain, or recent injuries to other areas of the arm, shoulder and neck. Tell your doctor if you have been experiencing problems in these areas, as it may be related.