Have you ever asked yourself, “why does my elbow hurt every time I grab or lift something?” 

What about if your elbow pops when you extend your arm? Do you also feel pain then? 

Real-life scenarios like these connect to chronic elbow pain. In fact, around 1 million Americans living in the US alone suffer from this condition every year. 

If the pain occurs too frequently, you might be part of that statistic. Read below to find out more about why your elbow hurts and what you should do about it. 

Two women doing ring push-ups

Why Does My Elbow Pop When I Extend It

If your elbow pops when you extend your arm, it can point to three levels of pain severity:

  • Mild popping sensation – Your elbow occasionally clicks and without pain. This type of condition isn’t severe and could mean that you need to stretch more. 

 

  • Moderate pain – If your elbow frequently pops to the point of being painful, it might be strained from overuse and needs rest.

 

  • Severe pain – Too much elbow popping and pain are signs of severe injury. Make sure to get it checked out by a medical professional. 

Pain in elbow highlighted in red

Why is There Pain in My Elbow When I’m Straightening My Arm?

If your elbow pain increases instead of fading away over time, then it can be considered chronic. 

Chronic elbow pain is a severe symptom that you shouldn’t ignore. It can point to an accidental injury, physical trauma, or an unhealthy part of your current lifestyle. 

The worst part is, the pain can also run down to your wrist, freezing your entire lower arm. Even if you’re just reaching out to open a cupboard or hold a coffee cup, your elbow will act up. 

If your chronic elbow pain doesn’t get better in more than a month, you might have a condition called tennis elbow. 

Despite its name, you can get a tennis elbow even if you’ve never swung a racket in your life. Only 10% of tennis elbow patients actually play any racquet sport. Which means, the remaining percentage might include you. 

Tennis player experiencing a tennis elbow

What is Tennis Elbow? 

Tennis elbow is a chronic muscle syndrome that causes numbing pain and swelling in your elbow. About 1 to 3% of the US population had tennis elbow each year, making it the most prevalent cause of chronic elbow pain. 

It occurs when you overuse the muscles in your elbow. For instance, tennis elbow happens because of these physical activities:

  • Racquet sports like tennis and badminton
  • Swimming
  • Golfing
  • Gardening
  • Sewing
  • Using manual hand tools such as screwdrivers
  • Turning a key
  • Hitting your elbow on accident

Who is at Risk for Tennis Elbow? 

While anyone can get tennis elbow, it has a higher risk level with these specific groups:

  • Athletes who play impact sports every day.
  • Workers who do repetitive physical labor.
  • People with a history of elbow injuries.
  • People between the ages of 35 to 54.

Doctor holding patient’s sleeved elbow

How to Diagnose Tennis Elbow? 

To check if you do have tennis elbow, look out for these symptoms:

  • Pain, redness, and swelling in the elbow gradually get worse over time.
  • Increased elbow pain when you squeeze or hold an object.
  • Reduced range of motion in your elbow and arm.
  • Persistent pain spreading from your elbow down to your forearm and wrist.
  • Your grip on things becomes weak. 

If your symptoms don’t improve after a week, it’s time to consult your doctor.

A medical professional can do a complete physical exam to diagnose what’s going on. They might also include an X-ray or MRI scan. Afterward, they can propose the treatment options you need. 

Man holding his braced elbow

What Happens if I Ignore Tennis Elbow symptoms?

Trapped Nerves

Tennis elbow often feels like your elbow is stuck, especially when you bend your arm. Which means it puts a lot of pressure on your muscles, bones, and nerves.

When there’s too much pressure on your elbow, your nerves can go numb. It leads to your forearm getting sore, inflamed, and weak. You may also find it difficult to extend your arm and do household chores. 

Loss of Mobility 

As the numbness and pain persist, your elbow, and consequently your whole forearm, will lose its strength and range of motion. Gripping objects like spoons and phones won’t be easy. 

Osteoarthritis

If you ignore repetitive flashes of deep pain in your elbow, it can result in a chronic disease called osteoarthritis. 

Osteoarthritis happens when the cartilage protecting your joints breaks down from overuse. It can immobilize your elbow and give you long-term pain, stiffness, and mobility loss.

For this reason, osteoarthritis is also known as “wear and tear” arthritis. 

Doctor doing physical therapy on patient’s elbow

How to Treat Tennis Elbow? 

Non-Surgical Treatment

Around 80 to 95% of tennis elbow cases are treated effectively at home. Before you settle for drastic measures, evaluate your elbow pain first and try these non-surgical treatment methods. 

  • Rest up.
  • Stimulate your elbow muscles with a massage gun
  • Use ice packs.
  • Regain your elbow strength with physical therapy.
  • Reduce the pain with prescribed NSAIDs like ibuprofen and aspirin.
  • If recommended by a doctor, take steroid and platelet injections.
  • Eat platelet-rich foods to speed up your recovery, such as leafy greens and fatty fish.

Surgery

If your tennis elbow doesn’t heal in 6 to 12 months, your doctor might recommend surgery. It means they would remove the damaged tendons in your elbow while you’re under anesthesia. 

Afterward, it would be best if you rested before you got back to your daily routine. The total recovery time after an elbow surgery can take up to 6 months or more. 

Injured tennis player recovering at home

How to Recover From Tennis Elbow?

After treating your elbow, don’t expect to jump back into normal life so soon. Your tennis elbow might be gone, but it’s still sensitive and not fully healed yet. 

Give yourself time to recuperate with these tips:

  • Wear a splint or an elbow brace to protect your sensitive elbow. 
  • Don’t rush your recovery. Keep out of physical labor for a while.  
  • Continue physical therapy to build up your elbow strength.
  • Sleep on your back to avoid bending your elbow through the night. 
  • Restore circulation and flexibility in your elbow with a massage gun.

https://youtu.be/u5WnqM7-8ec 

Remember, you’ve regained your elbow strength if you can do these: 

  • You can grip and lift objects without feeling pain. 
  • There’s no more redness and swelling in your elbow.
  • You can bend and straighten your arm with ease. 

Furthermore, here are some real recovery takes from Reddit:

Screenshot from Reddit talking about elbow pain treatmentsScreenshot from Reddit talking about elbow pain treatmentsScreenshot from Reddit talking about elbow pain treatments

How to Prevent Tennis Elbow? 

To reduce the risk of getting tennis elbow, you need to change your lifestyle for the better

If something in your routine hurts your elbow, stop it immediately. For instance, avoid lifting weights that are way heavier than your limit. 

Also, consult a physical therapist on what elbow exercises you should do. They will help strengthen your elbow against risks of injury and chronic pain. 

Here are some more ideas on how to prevent tennis elbow:

  • Don’t forget to warm up before doing any sport.
  • Protect your elbow with sports gear.
  • When possible, switch out manual hand tools with automatic power tools. 
  • Upgrade to an ergonomic workspace to avoid straining your elbow again.
  • Massage your elbow before and after work.

Two elbows in long sleeves bumping each other

To Summarize

Mild and infrequent elbow pops are rarely severe. But, if you can feel elbow pain along with it, that’s when you should be concerned. 

Chronic elbow pain paired with popping and swelling can indicate a tennis elbow. It’s the most common cause of elbow pain. Luckily, you can treat it at home. 

If you’re not up for surgery or injections, doing the classic RICE method (rest, ice, compression, elevation) can be enough. Let go of your heavy workload for a while and relax for a while.

Speaking of relaxation, massage can be more effective in fighting your tennis elbow if injections don’t work. You can rely on a massage gun to treat your tennis elbow at home instead of going straight to surgery. 

 

How about you? Have you felt intense pain in your elbow before? Did you fully recover from it? 

Comment down below your experience and tips on how to stop chronic elbow pain. Also, don’t forget to share this article to help others the way it helped you. 

Leave A Comment