Tackling Pain In Elbow & Upper Arm: Root Causes & Relief Methods!

pain in elbow and upper arm

Every time you reach for a coffee mug, type an email or simply extend a handshake, you’re reminded of it – that nagging, relentless pain in your elbow and upper arm. You’re not alone. Millions suffer from similar discomfort, often unsure of its origin or how to find relief. But rest assured, you’re not alone in your quest for relief. If you’ve found yourself massaging your arm more often than you’d like, or hesitating before lifting even the lightest objects, you’ve come to the right place. Dive in as we unpack the root causes behind this vexing pain and, more importantly, explore actionable solutions to grant you the relief you’ve been longing for.

Anatomy of the Elbow & Upper Arm: A Quick Glance

Anatomy of the Elbow & Upper Arm

Our elbow and upper arm, often taken for granted, are intricate and vital components of our musculoskeletal system. To understand the root causes of the pain you might be experiencing, it’s essential to have a fundamental grasp of the area’s anatomy.

  • Bones: The upper arm consists of the humerus bone, while the elbow is the joint where the humerus meets the two bones of the forearm: the radius (on the thumb side) and the ulna (on the pinky side).
  • Muscles: The upper arm houses two main muscle groups. The biceps, located at the front of the upper arm, allow you to bend your elbow and rotate your forearm. The triceps, found at the back of the upper arm, enable you to straighten your elbow.
  • Tendons: These tough, flexible bands of tissue connect muscles to bones. The tendons of the biceps and triceps muscles attach them to the bones of the elbow and shoulder. Notably, the biceps tendon attaches the biceps muscle to the radius, allowing you to bend your elbow and twist your forearm.
  • Ligaments: These are like strong ropes that help connect bones and provide stability to joints. The elbow has several essential ligaments, like the medial collateral ligament and lateral collateral ligament, which stabilize the joint.

Having this foundational understanding will help pinpoint where potential issues may arise, leading to the pain you’re feeling.

Identifying Common Culprits: Causes of Pain

Identifying Common Culprits Causes of Pain

The elbow and upper arm, while designed to handle a myriad of activities, can be susceptible to various injuries and conditions due to their intricate anatomy and the demands we place on them. Let’s explore some of the prevalent reasons that might be behind your discomfort:

  • Strains & Sprains: Overstretching or tearing of the muscles (strains) or ligaments (sprains) can result from lifting heavy objects, sudden movements, or direct blows to the area.
  • Repetitive Stress Injuries: Continuous, repetitive movements without adequate rest, such as those in certain sports or occupations, can lead to overuse injuries. These can inflame the tendons and lead to conditions like tennis elbow or golfer’s elbow.
  • Nerve Compression: The ulnar nerve runs through the elbow and can sometimes get compressed or trapped, commonly referred to as ‘cubital tunnel syndrome’. This compression can result in tingling, numbness, or pain radiating down the forearm.
  • Tennis Elbow (Lateral Epicondylitis): Despite its name, you don’t have to be a tennis player to develop this. It’s an inflammation of the tendons that attach to the lateral epicondyle (the outer bony part of the elbow).
  • Bursitis: The olecranon bursa, a fluid-filled sac located at the tip of the elbow, can get inflamed due to trauma, prolonged pressure, or infection, leading to pain and swelling.
  • Fractures: Direct trauma or a fall onto an outstretched arm can result in a fracture of the bones in the elbow or upper arm, causing immediate and severe pain.
  • Arthritis: Osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, or other types can affect the elbow joint, leading to pain, swelling, and reduced range of motion.

Understanding the potential causes is the first step towards finding an effective solution. Depending on the root cause, different treatment approaches will be appropriate, which we’ll delve into next.

Everyday Activities: Are They to Blame?

Everyday Activities Are They to BlameOur everyday actions, as innocuous as they might seem, can sometimes be the hidden culprits behind persistent elbow and upper arm pain. The repetitive and prolonged nature of these tasks can stress the delicate structures of this region. Let’s look at some commonplace activities that might be silently contributing to your discomfort:


  • Typing and Computer Work: Spending long hours on a computer, especially with poor ergonomics, can strain the muscles of the upper arm and put pressure on the elbow. Improper wrist positioning can lead to nerve compression, radiating pain up the arm.
  • Lifting Heavy Objects: Whether it’s picking up a child, carrying groceries, or lifting weights without proper form, this can strain the biceps and triceps muscles and stress the elbow joint.
  • Gardening and DIY Tasks: Repetitive actions like digging, hammering, or screwing can cause wear and tear on the tendons and muscles of the elbow and upper arm.
  • Driving: Holding the steering wheel for prolonged periods, especially with a tight grip or at an awkward angle, can lead to strain and muscle fatigue.
  • Household Chores: Simple activities like wringing out a cloth, vacuuming, or sweeping can, over time, place strain on the tendons and muscles, leading to pain.
  • Sporting Activities: Beyond the usual suspects like tennis or golf, any sport requiring repetitive arm movements—be it basketball, cricket, or swimming—can put you at risk if not done with proper form or without adequate rest.

Recognizing the everyday tasks that might be worsening or causing your pain is crucial. By making small adjustments to your posture, technique, or even taking periodic breaks, you can significantly reduce the risk of pain and injury.

Immediate Relief Techniques

Immediate Relief TechniquesWhen pain strikes, immediate relief becomes the foremost priority. Although it’s essential to address the root cause for a long-term solution, the following immediate relief techniques can provide respite and speed up the recovery process. Here’s a closer look at the renowned R.I.C.E. method and how each step aids in alleviating pain.

  • Rest: Giving your elbow and upper arm a break from activities can prevent further injury and give the inflamed tissues a chance to heal.
    • What to do: Avoid movements or tasks that exacerbate the pain. Use a sling or brace if necessary to minimize movement.
  • Ice: Cold therapy can reduce inflammation, numb the affected area, and alleviate pain.
    • What to do: Apply a cold pack or ice wrapped in a cloth to the painful area for 15-20 minutes at a time, multiple times a day. Remember, direct application of ice can cause frostbite, so always use a barrier like a cloth.
  • Compression: Compressing the affected area can help reduce swelling and provide support.
    • What to do: Use an elastic medical bandage to wrap the upper arm or elbow. Ensure it’s snug but not so tight that it disrupts blood flow.
  • Elevation: Elevating the injured area can minimize swelling by promoting the return of blood to the heart.
    • What to do: When resting or sleeping, prop your arm up on pillows, ensuring it’s elevated above the level of your heart.

Alongside the R.I.C.E. method, over-the-counter pain relievers, when taken as directed and after consulting with a healthcare professional, can also offer temporary pain relief.

Over-the-Counter Solutions

Over-the-Counter Solutions

Elbow and upper arm pain can be debilitating, especially when it interrupts daily activities. Fortunately, several over-the-counter (OTC) solutions can provide temporary relief. Let’s dive into the most commonly utilized OTC remedies and their effectiveness.

  • Pain Relievers:
    • Types: Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen (e.g., Advil, Motrin) or naproxen (Aleve) are often recommended.
    • Efficacy: These medications not only alleviate pain but also reduce inflammation, making them especially effective for conditions like tendonitis or bursitis. It’s important, however, to use them as directed and be aware of potential side effects.
  • Topical Analgesic Creams and Gels:
    • Types: Products containing menthol, camphor, or capsaicin can provide a cooling or warming sensation to the affected area.
    • Efficacy: These can be particularly effective for superficial pain and can be applied directly to the area of discomfort. They work by temporarily numbing the area and distracting from the pain.
  • Patches:
    • Types: Lidocaine patches are a popular choice. They deliver a local anesthetic directly to the painful area.
    • Efficacy: These patches can numb the affected area, providing relief, especially for localized pain. They’re convenient for prolonged use and can be worn under clothing.
  • Joint and Muscle Rubs:
    • Types: Formulations often combine analgesic properties with a soothing sensation, with ingredients like eucalyptus or methyl salicylate.
    • Efficacy: They can provide quick relief and are easy to apply. The sensation, combined with the massaging action during application, can be beneficial for muscle-related pain.

While OTC solutions can be a valuable tool in the fight against pain, it’s always advisable to consult with a healthcare professional before starting any medication regimen. Moreover, remember that these solutions often address the symptoms, not the root cause.

Stretching & Strengthening: Exercises for Alleviation

Stretching & Strengthening Exercises for Alleviation

When these muscles aren’t at their best, the result can be pain and dysfunction. However, incorporating specific exercises into your routine can be transformative, aiding not only in pain relief but also in fortifying these areas against future issues. Here are some recommended stretches and strengthening exercises:

  • Wrist Flexor Stretch: Extend your arm in front of you with your palm up. Using your opposite hand, gently push down on the raised hand, stretching the wrist and inner side of the forearm.
  • Wrist Extensor Stretch: Extend your arm in front of you, palm facing down. Use your opposite hand to gently push the top of your hand towards the floor.
  • Bicep Stretch: Stand next to a wall with the arm to be stretched towards the wall. Extend the arm and place the palm and fingers onto the wall, with fingers pointing backward. Gently turn your body away from the wall to feel a stretch in your bicep and chest.
  • Tricep Stretch: Raise your arm overhead, then bend it so your hand is reaching towards the opposite shoulder. Use your opposite hand to gently push on the bent elbow.
  • Forearm Strengthening with a Dumbbell: Seated, hold a dumbbell in your hand with your forearm resting on your thigh, your wrist hanging off the edge. Slowly flex and extend the wrist, holding for a couple of seconds in each position.
  • Resistance Band Flexion & Extension: Secure a resistance band under your foot and hold the other end with your hand. Flex and extend the wrist against the band’s resistance.

Regularly performing these exercises can significantly bolster the muscles and tendons of the elbow and upper arm, making them more resilient and less prone to injury.

When to See a Specialist

While many instances of elbow and upper arm pain can be addressed with at-home remedies and exercises, there are situations when professional intervention becomes essential. Here’s a quick guide on when to seek expert advice:

  • If your pain doesn’t subside after a week or two of home treatment, it might be an indication of a more severe condition.
  • Any sudden spike in pain intensity or discomfort becomes unbearable.
  • If you’re experiencing difficulty or an inability to straighten your arm, or if bending the elbow becomes an ordeal.
  • Any sensation of pins and needles, or numbness in the arm or fingers requires immediate attention.
  • Swelling, redness, warmth around the elbow, or if the pain is accompanied by fever, are warning signs.
  • If the pain keeps coming back despite your best efforts, this recurrence can hint at an underlying issue.

Remember, while self-management techniques are valuable, there’s no replacement for the expertise of a medical professional or physical therapist. They can provide a precise diagnosis and a tailored treatment plan to address the root causes of your pain.


Dealing with pain in the elbow and upper arm can be a daunting experience, affecting both your daily activities and overall well-being. While the insights provided above can guide you in understanding and managing your condition, never underestimate the value of professional guidance. If you’re experiencing Elbow pain, physical therapy for elbow pain at PhysioMantra can help: Book an online physical therapy session.