Is Chronic Elbow Pain Making You Strike Out?

Especially among athletes, elbow pain is a common concern. The elbow is a crucial joint involved in lifting, throwing, and catching. Due to overuse or a blow to the area, the ligaments and tissue can suffer elbow injuries. Like any joint, pain, swelling, bruising, and limited range of motion (ROM) are the primary signs of injury. The first steps involved a combination of pain management and non-surgical treatment. These techniques are valuable, but some misconceptions may prevent elbow patients from receiving the appropriate help. Debunking these 3 myths can help people return to activities with a stronger, healthier joint.

Myth 1: Rest is always best

Plenty of rest is the first, and often most important, non-surgical strategy used to treat elbow pain, but is rest always best? Leaving the elbow alone within the first few days can help reduce initial inflammation. However, prolonged rest and a lack of movement can be counterproductive. Muscle stiffness and even atrophy can occur, reducing elbow function. Rest must be carefully mixed with modified activity and stretching to ensure continuous blood flow. Elbow pain patients should also consider active recovery, a series of gentle exercises and movements to promote healing.

Myth 2: You need progressively stronger medication

Pain medication plays an integral part in non-surgical treatments. A doctor will recommend painkillers, including non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), to help with pain and function. These are often enough to manage pain, but there are also stronger opioids available. While effective, opioids can have addictive consequences. More potent drugs can also limit physical therapy (PT) and active recovery. Finding the right mix of pain management and exercises will provide the best results.

Myth 3: You should go straight to surgery

There is often a misconception that surgery is the fastest way to recovery and non-surgical treatments are unnecessary. The opposite is in fact true. Doctors will use surgery as a last resort if there is no severe damage to the joint. The body can heal when given time. Pain management, PT, and other techniques like regenerative medicine can provide the elbow the time needed to heal. Surgery can repair the joint, but there is a risk of complications. Furthermore, patients still require a recovery and rehabilitation period after surgery. In cases of a significant injury, like an ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) tear, surgery is necessary to restore joint function. The surgeon can use outpatient minimally invasive surgery (MIS) for less pain, faster recovery, and fewer risks.

An elbow treatment home run

Pain from an elbow injury or overuse can interrupt daily activities or sports performance. Damage to the tissue, ligaments, or bone limits movement and can worsen if left untreated. Non-surgical treatment is the first line of defense and often the best course of action. With stretches, exercises, and pain medication, the elbow can heal, and function can return. However, the right balance of rest, training, and medication management can achieve the best results. Surgery is necessary only in severe cases or when the injury doesn’t respond to treatment. Lean on an orthopedic surgeon to create an optimal recovery plan for renewed elbow function.