With or without exercise, pain on the elbow can be limiting and sometimes frustrating for homemakers, athletes, and all sorts of individuals. Suppose you feel alarmed about a sudden and unexpected pain on the inside of your elbow while straightening your arm. In that case, there are a few diagnoses your doctor will probably consider based on this particular symptom. In this article, we’re going through such diagnoses, talking about tennis elbow as a differential diagnosis, and giving you a few suggestions that you can try at home.
What causes pain on the inside of the elbow?
With this particular symptom, your doctor will probably think about these diagnostic possibilities:
- Tendonitis: Tendons connect muscles with their respective bones and become sore and stiff when they are inflamed. Tendonitis is the inflammation of the tendon, and biceps tendonitis located at the elbow can cause the type of pain described above. The pain is often dull and worsens when you lift something or when you straighten the elbow. Even twisting your arm can trigger the pain.
- Lesions or inflammation: In some cases, the biceps tendon is inflamed and partially torn. This is usually the result of a very severe or violent lesion. You may feel different symptoms besides pain—for example, severe bruising and swelling and a bump in the inner portion of your elbow. If the biceps tendon gets torn, you may stop feeling pain or not feel pain as the most concerning problem. In these cases, you may become unable to completely bend your arm or feel significant weakness in trying to do so.
- Muscle spasms: Perhaps you do not have a concerning problem such as tendonitis or a tendon tear. Maybe it is just a muscle spasm that comes and goes, making you feel pain when straightening your elbow. Sometimes, there’s a trigger point in your biceps muscle that gets stuck firing impulses and creating tension and muscle spasms. This may be due to inappropriate training techniques, an excessive volume of exercise, or a musculoskeletal condition.
- Mineral deficiencies: Another common problem is having a magnesium deficiency. This is another cause of muscle spasm that deserves special consideration. Magnesium is essential for muscle contraction and relaxation. If you don’t have an appropriate supply of this mineral in your diet, you may start feeling cramps and spasms in different parts of your body, including your biceps muscle.
- Other causes: Doctors may also consider musculoskeletal problems such as arthritis or deep vein thrombosis. If your pain is located on the inner side of the left elbow, running down from your shoulder, and you have cardiovascular problems, a heart attack may also be considered. However, these causes are not usually considered because the physical exam does not point out these ailments.
What about tennis elbow?
You may have heard about tennis elbow pain before, and it is a type of pain in your elbow, too. It is also triggered by extending or straightening the arms. However, we’re not considering tennis elbow as the first choice because this type of pain is not located on the inside of the elbow. Instead, patients typically report tennis elbow pain on the outside or lateral part of the elbow, sometimes irradiating to the back of the forearm.
Tennis elbow is very different from tendonitis of the biceps muscle or muscle spasms. It is an inflammation of the elbow joint, usually associated with repeated use of the articulation and an overuse lesion. A forearm muscle named carpi radialis brevis is often damaged in tennis elbow, and patients report a very weak grip, pain, and inflammation. In this case, something as simple as shaking hands can become a challenging problem, and keep in mind that despite the name, only a small proportion of tennis elbow patients actually play tennis. This is not an exclusive injury of a tennis player.
As mentioned above, most of these conditions can be diagnosed with a physical exam. That’s why a doctor’s opinion is critical, and there’s nothing better than asking your doctor and letting him examine you personally. With a few maneuvers and tests, your doctor will be able to spot the trouble area and detect if we’re in front of a tendon, muscle, or joint problem.
What can you do about it?
If you are having this type of pain continuously, you might want to talk to your doctor about it. In most cases, patients feel this type of pain temporarily after minor trauma, muscle tension, or an improper gym technique.
But if you’re starting to feel this symptom and it is not severe, you can feel your biceps and triceps muscles attentively. If you spot a tight spot that feels like a nodule, it can be a muscle spasm. Use pain-relieving creams, Arnica, and other over-the-counter solutions to reduce inflammation, and rest from physical exercise for a while until you feel better. You can also apply some pressure or give a gentle massage without any sliding movement. Just press and release until you feel the nodule starts to disappear.
You may also want to evaluate your diet and consider magnesium deficiency as a triggering problem, especially if you frequently experience muscle cramps, tight areas in your muscles, and spasms. Use cold therapy to relieve inflammation, and if nothing calms down the pain, talk to your doctor.
Do not wait, and go directly to your doctor if your pain is very severe if you’re feeling other symptoms such as shortness of breath, shoulder or jaw pain, and fatigue, and if you see sudden changes in the coloration of your skin.
Fitzgerald, S. W., Curry, D. R., Erickson, S. J., Quinn, S. F., & Friedman, H. (1994). Distal biceps tendon injury: MR imaging diagnosis. Radiology, 191(1), 203-206.
Davis, W. M., & Yassine, Z. (1956). An etiological factor in tear of the distal tendon of the biceps brachii: report of two cases. JBJS, 38(6), 1365-1368.
Chew, M. L., & Giuffrè, B. M. (2005). Disorders of the distal biceps brachii tendon. Radiographics, 25(5), 1227-1237.
Ramsey, M. L. (1999). Distal biceps tendon injuries: diagnosis and management. JAAOS-Journal of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, 7(3), 199-207.