Elbow tendons are important in providing strength, flexibility, and stability to the elbow joint. Many problems can affect elbow tendons, and are usually caused by direct injury or overuse. Most cases are mild and can be treated at home with rest and ice, though severe tendon damage might require physical therapy or surgery to correct problems. The most common problems to affect elbow tendons are tennis elbow, golfer's elbow, and accidents where tendons are stretched or torn.
There are several tendons that meet at the elbow joint, including two major ones that are affected in most elbow injuries. The lateral epicondyle tendon attaches forearm muscles the outside of the joint, and medial epicondyle tendon affixes muscles to the inside of the joint. The tendons work together to allow the fingers to bend, straighten, and grasp.
The most common problem with lateral epicondyle elbow tendons is an overuse injury known as tennis elbow. Predictably, it is a common ailment of tennis players, though anyone who repeatedly raises, straightens, and bends his or her arm when working or playing sports can experience the injury. Tennis elbow is a form of tendinitis where pain, swelling, and inflammation are present on the outside of the elbow. The injury often results in pain radiating down to the wrist and weakness in the forearm. It can be difficult to grasp and hold even light objects, such as a tennis racket, a football, or a drinking cup.
A similar form of tendinitis known as golfer's elbow can affect the medial epicondyle tendon on the inner arm. It is common in people who must frequently bend their wrists and clench their fingers, like golfers, painters, and construction workers. The symptoms include pain and swelling of the inner elbow, weakness in the fingers, and occasionally numbness that radiates down the arm.
Many other problems can affect elbow tendons. A direct injury to the elbow joint can cause inflammation, tissue damage, or even tear a tendon. A person who lands on his or her elbow after a fall or accidentally extends the joint past its normal range of motion can suffer such an injury. Pain is usually immediate and severe, and can significantly impair movement and strength.
Most elbow tendon problems can be alleviated by resting and icing the joint. An individual should avoid strenuous activity until pain and swelling subsides, which can take anywhere from a few days to one month or longer. If pain is severe or does not go away with home treatment, a person should seek professional medical advice at an emergency room or doctor's office. A physician can examine the joint and take x-rays to determine the extent of tissue damage. He or she might prescribe pain medications, arrange for physical rehabilitation therapy, or suggest surgery to repair or replace torn tendons.