Still Have Elbow Pain? Here’s 1 Simple Thing You Haven’t Tried

Elbow Pain

Elbow Pain

Elbow pain can be caused by a number of reasons.  Over the years we’ve talked about a majority of them! Some causes include the elbow joint itself, the wrist and forearm, and even higher into the neck and shoulder.  One cause of elbow pain we have not talked a lot about is how weak rotator cuff muscles in the shoulder can cause tennis elbow because of overcompensation.

How Do The Elbow and Shoulder Connect?

The elbow is a hinge joint that connects your forearm to your upper arm bone called the humorous and allows you to bend and straighten your arm.  Additionally, it allows you to turn your palm up and turn your palm down.

The shoulder gets its name “ball-and-socket joint” from the rounded shape at the top of your upper arm that resembles a ball. It fits perfectly into a cup-shaped hollow (socket) in your shoulder blade. These ball-and-socket joints are highly flexible. In fact, your shoulder has a broader, more diverse range of motion than any other joint in your body.

The shoulders and elbows are held together by various tissues known as ligaments, tendons, and cartilage. Ligaments connect the bones to other bones. Tendons connect bones with muscles. And a layer of slippery tissue called cartilage covers the ends of the bones. This helps them glide against each other during movement.

If something harms a part of your joint – whether it’s a bone or the tissue around it – you may have pain, weakness, numbness, and other symptoms that make it difficult to use your arm or shoulder.

Additionally, we have a rigid and flexible connective tissue called fascia that layers between muscles and across joints.  Injury in one joint can manifest pain in another joint because of these myofascial connections.  This type of injury is called myofascial pain patterns or syndrome.  Injuries to the muscles of the rotator cuff can cause pain to travel down the arm bone and manifest in the elbow.  Since the shoulder muscles have to contract to stabilize to allow for movement of the elbow, a shoulder injury can fool people into thinking the injury is in the elbow.

How Do I Treat It?

Treatment only to the elbow is often unsuccessful or can lead to only temporary improvements. Common treatments that produce minimal lasting benefits include medications, injections, braces, ultrasound, laser, or electrical stimulation. Often, muscle weakness at the elbow and neighboring areas are contributing to this persistent elbow pain.

Research suggests there is an association between posture and shoulder muscle weakness in people with tennis elbow and other elbow conditions.

There has been a link between tennis elbow and muscle strength of the serratus anterior, lower, and middle trapezius muscles. Poor rotator cuff strength is also linked to tennis elbow.

These muscles are important for orienting and positioning the shoulder blade during functional activities involving the arm. Poor strength or endurance of these muscles results in overload to the elbow and wrist muscles. Strengthening of the scapular stabilizers is an important part of rehabilitation for patients with tennis elbow.

Strengthen The Shoulder Muscles To Stop Elbow Pain

Strengthening the shoulder is an integral part of rehabilitation from an elbow injury. Perhaps, more importantly, shoulder exercises can reduce the risk of elbow injury before the pain starts. Strengthening exercises for the elbow and wrist are also important considerations.

However, the shoulder and upper back regions are often neglected when it comes to improving elbow function. This is one reason why elbow injuries and pain often persist longer than expected. Human movements are more complex than isolated muscles or joints. Therefore, exercise programs should integrate the entire body in order to restore or optimize function.

If you need more tips and advice on how to ease pain and get back to living a pain-free and independent life, you can download our free report here that goes over the top 47 most Frequently Asked Questions About Physical therapy


… OR call or text us at 623.486.3333

Nick Hunter, PT, DPT

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