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our elbow lets you throw, lift, swing, and hug, for starters. You can do all this because it’s not a simple joint. And that means, from sports injuries to even elbow, there are a lot of ways things can go wrong.
Your elbow’s a joint formed where three bones come together — your upper arm bone, called the humerus, and the ulna and the radius, the two bones that make up your forearm.
Each bone has cartilage on the end, which helps them slide against each other and absorb shocks. They’re lashed into place with tough tissues called ligaments. And your tendons connect your bones to muscles to allow you to move your arm in different ways.
If anything happens to any of these parts, not to mention the nerves and blood vessels around them, it can cause you pain.
Here are some of the different ways your elbow can hurt:
When one of the bones that forms the elbow gets knocked out of place, you have a dislocated elbow. One of the more common causes is when you put your hand out to catch yourself during a fall. It can also happen to toddlers when you swing them by their forearms — that’s called nursemaid’s elbow. If you think you or your child has a dislocated elbow, call your doctor right away.
If one of your arm bones breaks at the elbow, you have a fracture. Usually, this happens with a sudden blow, as you might get in a contact sport or a car accident. And don’t be fooled if you can still move your elbow afterward. If you’re in pain and it doesn’t look right, it could be broken. You’ll need medical attention.
Strains and sprains
File these under, “Oof, I think I pushed it a little too far.” When muscles get stretched or torn, it’s called a strain. When it’s ligaments, it’s a sprain.
You can get a strain when you put too much pressure on your elbow muscles, like when you lift heavy objects or overdo it with sports. Elbow sprains are common in athletes who throw, use rackets, or play contact sports. Both are treated with rest, ice and — once the pain is gone — stretching and strength exercises.