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How to Help Elbow Pain With Massage and Exercises

Elbow pain happens for many reasons, and knowing how to help elbow pain most effectively requires knowing the cause.

Your elbow joint is the connection of the upper arm bone (humerus) to the bones (radius and ulna) in the forearm. Muscles, tendons, and ligaments hold these bones together, while also letting you bend and straighten your arm.

What Causes Pain in the Elbow?

Damage to the muscles, tendons, or ligaments around the elbow joint is often a cause of pain. The most common cause of injury is overuse. Any repetitive action that places a prolonged strain on the forearm muscles, combined with not enough rest, can strain and overwork the surrounding tissue.

Three common overuse elbow injuries: 

  • Lateral epicondylitis (tennis elbow) is pain on the outside of the elbow. The cause of this lateral elbow pain is an inflamed tendon of the muscle that extends the forearm (as in a tennis backhand).
  • Medial epicondylitis (golfer's elbow) is pain in the inner elbow. The cause of this medial elbow pain is an inflamed tendon of the muscle that flexes the forearm (as in swinging a golf club).
  • Medial collateral ligament sprain (thrower's elbow) is pain on both sides of the elbow caused by damage to one of the ligaments that holds the bones together (common in baseball pitchers and other people who throw things).

You don't have to be a tennis player, golfer, or thrower of things to get one of these injuries, as other activities also use these motions.

Other causes of elbow pain include direct injury (such as a bump or fall), using poorly fitted equipment (tennis racquets, golf clubs, work tools, and so forth), poor sports or working technique (get some instruction!), and a low level of general fitness and conditioning.

Olecranon bursitis can also cause pain. A pad called a bursa is located at the tip (olecranon) of the elbow. Injury, minor trauma, local infection, or body-wide diseases (for example, rheumatoid arthritis or gout) can cause the bursa to become inflamed, painful, and sometimes swollen.

Another possible cause of elbow pain is cubital tunnel syndrome (entrapped ulnar nerve near the elbow). Other symptoms of this condition might include numbness and tingling in the hand and fingers. The cause is often unknown, according to John Hopkins, but causes can include bending the elbows often (when pulling, reaching, or lifting), leaning frequently on the elbow, injury, arthritis, bone spurs, or previous elbow fractures or dislocations.

Elbow pain when extending your arm may indicate tennis elbow, bursitis, bicep tendinitis, elbow dislocation, or osteoarthritis.

Dealing With Elbow Pain

Getting an accurate diagnosis is important for determining how to relieve elbow pain.

Common recommendations include rest, anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs), cold packs, bracing, stretching, and massage, according to Jacksonville Orthopaedic Institute.

See the following videos for suggested massage and exercises for tennis and golfer's elbow. Use your good judgement in following the recommendations and seek professional help as appropriate.

How to Help Elbow Pain With Massage

Massage therapy is a great way to help heal elbow injury (but not bursitis), if you find a massage therapist who is skilled in injury massage. The following video demonstrates massage for tennis elbow.

Exercises for Tennis Elbow Pain

Massage for Golfer's Elbow

Golf Elbow Pain Relief Exercises

Also consider using pain-relieving essential oils in conjunction with massage.

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