Causes & Treatment for Elbow & Shoulder Pain

Elbow and shoulder pain are common complaints experienced by people of all ages. Each year, almost 6 million people in the US visit their doctors because of shoulder injuries or trauma, such as sprains, strains and dislocations. Elbow problems are a little less common, but can be just as painful. Whether you are suffering from elbow and shoulder pain because of overuse or as a result of a traumatic injury, the discomfort can keep you from performing several daily activities. However, before trying to get the pain in your shoulder and elbow treated, it is important that you identify the causes.

Causes

You shoulder joint consists of three bones, which are the scapula (the shoulder blade), the humerus (the upper arm) and the clavicle (the collarbone). The humerus bone and the scapula fit like a ball and socket. The elbow is made of the humerus and two lower arm bones, which are the radius and the ulnae. These bones are connected with ligaments and fit together, like a hinge. There are several types of injuries and conditions that can trigger off pain in the elbow and shoulder. Given below are some of the common factors that could lead to pain in the shoulders or elbows:

  • Arthritis: This common condition occurs due to the wearing off of the protective layer, which covers the bone ends within your joints
  • Bursitis: This can be described as an inflammation in the bursae, which are the small sacs located between your bones and the other moving structures like your muscles, tendons and skin.
  • Cubital Tunnel Syndrome: A condition which affects the ulnar nerve, crossing your elbow through the cubital tunnel.
  • Dislocated Shoulder and Elbow: Shoulder dislocation occurs when the ball at the top of the humerus comes out of the socket, partially or completely. Dislocation of the elbow takes place when the elbow bones are pulled apart and the ligaments that keep the bones together get stretched or tear.
  • Fractures in the Elbow or Shoulder Bones: The bones in the shoulder or the elbow can break (or crack) due to a fall or an accident.
  • Frozen Shoulder: Also known as adhesive capsulitis this painful condition is characterized by severe motion loss. A frozen shoulder may occur after an injury, or suddenly, for no apparent cause.
  • Ligament Injuries: Overuse of a joint, falls or accidents can tear or strain the ligaments on either side of the bone.
  • Osteoarthritis: This is the most common form of arthritis, which is an inevitable part of ageing. This condition can affect any joint in your body and is caused by the wear and tear of that joint.
  • Osteoporosis: This condition causes your bones to lose calcium, because of which they become more brittle and fragile.
  • Osteonecrosis or Bone Death: This condition occurs when a segment of a bone within your joint loses it blood supply and “dies”.
  • Rheumatoid Arthritis: This form of arthritis occurs when a severe inflammation eats away at the protective tissue lining your joints
  • Rotator Cuff Injuries: Repetitive shoulder movements or other conditions can lead to degeneration of the rotator cuff tendons. This happens to be one of the most common causes of shoulder pain in people over the age of 30.
  • Shoulder Instability: This condition occurs when your shoulder joint becomes very loose and slides around too much within the socket. An unstable shoulder can also slip out of its socket completely. It is usually an injury that causes an unstable shoulder.
  • Tendinitis: Tendons are fibrous cords that keep the muscles attached to the bones. An inflammation or irritation in the tendons can be described as tendonitis.
  • Tennis Elbow: An inflammation in the muscles or the tendons of your forearm can be described as a tennis elbow.
  • Thoracic Outlet Syndrome: This rare condition occurs when the nerves or vessels in your collarbone get compressed.

These are just some of the common causes of elbow and shoulder pain, though there can be several others.

Treatment

The treatment for elbow and shoulder pain could include surgical as well as non-surgical procedures. Surgical treatment for shoulder and elbow pain can include:

  • Arthoscopy
  • Joint replacement

The non-surgical treatments for elbow and shoulder pain include:

  • Medicines like aspirin, ibuprofen or corticosteroids
  • Physical therapy, comprising of stretching and muscle strengthening exercises
  • Reduction procedure, where dislocated joints are put back in the sockets
  • R. I. C. E (Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation)
  • Splinting, or immobilizing the affected joint
  • Deep heat therapy, using sound waves

Depending upon the cause of the problem, you may need to adopt a combination of treatment options. However, it is important for you to ensure that the treatment is administered by a specialized doctor.