Three bones make up the elbow joint which functions as a hinge. The upper arm bone or humerus joins with the 2 forearm bones, the radius and ulna. The bones fit tightly together, making this a very stable joint. Strong ligaments connect the humerus to both forearm bones and are known as the collateral ligaments. The biceps and triceps muscles are the most important motors of the elbow joint, but most of the muscles of the forearm and hand also arise from around the elbow joint. Normal elbow function is critical to activities of daily living such as eating, grooming, and personal hygiene.
Elbow pain most commonly results from a process similar to tendon inflammation called tendinosis. When the pain is on the outside of the elbow, this is known as tennis elbow and when it is on the inside, it’s golfer’s elbow. Tendonitis can arise in the biceps and triceps as well and can severely limit function.
Trauma around the elbow occurs frequently and results in injuries like fractures, dislocations and tendon tears. Biceps tendon tears are an increasingly common problem in active patients.
Arthritis and loose bodies also develop frequently over time and are usually an over use problem.
Finally, sports related injuries are most common in throwing athletes. Ulnar collateral ligament tears are the dreaded injury that may end up needing a repair – the Tommy John surgery.
Most elbow problems get better without surgery but a few are best treated with well-established operations that restore form and function.