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Ask the Doctor: Dave R. Skula, M.D.

Q. What is causing my elbow pain and how do I treat it?

A: Lateral epicondylitis, also known as tennis elbow, is one of the most common causes of pain in the elbow.

Despite the name, tennis elbow is not just an injury for tennis players and can occur in anyone who strains or overuses the tendons of the forearm. You may have tennis elbow if you are experiencing tenderness on the outside of the elbow, burning or persistent aching, soreness, and pain when grasping an object.

For nearly 90 percent of individuals, tennis elbow will resolve on its own within a year to 18 months.

To temporarily alleviate symptoms, your physician may recommend ice and temporary rest, along with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), physical therapy (stretching and strengthening), or a cortisone injection.

Platelet-rich plasma (PRP) is currently being investigated as a treatment option and the results are promising, but more research is needed.

In some cases, if symptoms fail to resolve after conservative management and begin to significantly affect your quality of life, surgery may be considered. The operation can be done arthroscopically or through a small incision, and is an outpatient procedure.

Another cause of elbow pain or elbow stiffness can be due to osteoarthritis.

Elbow osteoarthritis presents itself differently than in other areas of the body. Osteoarthritis in the hip and knee results from loss of cartilage, whereas in the elbow, the symptoms related to the actual loss of cartilage are less severe, but bone spur formation occurs and results in loss of motions as they impinge the elbow joint. Because of that, surgery, either arthroscopically or through separate incisions, to remove the bone spurs and release the contracted joint capsule can often be a very reliable long-term treatment, and may prevent the need for a total elbow replacement, which is especially favorable in younger patients.

If you are having recurrent pain in your elbow, schedule an evaluation with an orthopedic specialist to assess the injury.

Dave R. Shukla, M.D. is an orthopedic surgeon who practices in Irvine.