There are several possible causes of left elbow pain. These range from injuries and overuse to inflammatory and degenerative conditions. Treatment for left arm elbow pain depends on the cause.

The elbow joint consists of three separate bones: the humerus (in the upper arm) and the radius and ulna (in the forearm). It also contains multiple ligaments, tendons, muscles, and nerves that move the elbow.

Left elbow pain can occur if any of these structures sustain damage or becomes inflamed.

This article will look at different causes of left elbow pain and the treatment options available.

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Injuries, overuse, or osteoarthritis are possible causes of pain in the left elbow.

A person can experience blunt force trauma to their elbow due to a motor vehicle accident, falling, or a sports-related collision.

Elbow injuries can be either acute or complex.

Acute elbow injuries

An acute elbow injury refers to a soft tissue injury, such as a bruise or a ligament strain or sprain.

They can happen when a person suddenly twists, jerks, or overextends their elbow.

These types of elbow injury can involve:

  • sudden, severe pain
  • aching
  • swelling
  • joint instability
  • a reduced range of motion

Complex elbow injuries

Complex elbow injuries refer to injuries that involve bone, such as fractures and dislocations.

A dislocation occurs when two bones that usually form a joint no longer come together.

According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, if a person’s elbow is completely dislocated, they will experience pain, and the arm will appear to be deformed.

If a partial dislocation has occurred, the joint may appear normal. A person will move their arm well, but they may experience pain.

A fracture occurs when a bone cracks or breaks. Fractures may or may not damage surrounding tissue.

Some symptoms of a fractured elbow include:

  • sudden and intense pain
  • numbness in the fingers
  • loss of mobility
  • swelling and discoloration
  • a joint that appears deformed or out of place
  • a piece of bone protruding through the skin (in the case of an open fracture)


Treatment for elbow injuries depends on the type and severity of the injury.

An acute injury, such as a mild ligament sprain or strain, will heal with rest and the following at-home treatments:

  • applying ice packs to the affected elbow
  • taking over-the-counter (OTC) pain medications
  • compressing the injured area with an elastic bandage or a brace
  • not using the injured elbow until it heals

A healthcare provider can move a dislocated elbow joint back into its original position. Afterward, they may recommend keeping the elbow immobilized in a sling or brace for 1–3 weeks.

A healthcare provider will also treat a fracture by realigning the bone and immobilizing it until it heals. They may choose to hold the fractured bone in place with either a plaster cast or a metal plate and screws.

After removing the brace, sling, or cast, a person may want to consider physical therapy, which helps increase the range of motion and improve joint stability.

Repetitive motions, such as throwing or lifting weights, can damage parts of the elbow joint — especially the tendons.

Some examples of repetitive motion elbow injuries include:

Medial epicondylitis

Medial epicondylitis, or golfer’s elbow, occurs when microscopic tears form in the tendons connected to the medial epicondyle.

These tears develop from repetitive movements and overuse.

An epicondyle is the technical term for any bony protuberance, or large bump, on the end of a bone. The medial epicondyle is located at the end of the humerus bone on the side closest to the body.

Learn more about medial epicondylitis here.

Lateral epicondylitis

Lateral epicondylitis, or tennis elbow, is an overuse injury that leads to microscopic tears in the tendons on the outer edge of the elbow.

Both types of epicondylitis lead to similar symptoms, including:

  • pain or burning sensations on the inner or outer part of the elbow
  • pain when bending the wrist forward or backward
  • pain that radiates from the elbow to the pinky finger
  • an elbow that feels painful or tender when touched
  • loss of grip strength
  • a reduced range of motion

Learn more about lateral epicondylitis here.

Overuse injuries can lead to additional complications. For example, around 20% of people with recurring medial epicondylitis develop ulnar neuritis.

Ulnar neuritis, or cubital tunnel syndrome, is a condition that causes inflammation of the ulnar nerve. It can lead to numbness or weakness in the hand.


Around 80–95% of overuse elbow injuries resolve without surgery.

Performing physical therapy exercises can help strengthen the forearm muscles. Keeping the elbow immobilized with a brace can prevent additional tendon damage while the elbow heals.

Some other nonsurgical treatment options include:

  • taking OTC or prescription pain relievers
  • receiving cortisone steroid injections, to reduce inflammation
  • receiving prolotherapy platelet-rich plasma injections
  • receiving Botulinum toxin injections
  • trying shock wave therapy
  • trying massage therapy

A healthcare provider may recommend surgery if a person’s symptoms last for 6–12 months despite them trying the conservative treatment options above.

Surgery usually involves removing damaged tissue from the tendon or muscle. The surgeon will reattach the remaining healthy muscle to the epicondyle.

Learn more about exercises for lateral epicondylitis here.

Osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint condition that occurs when the cartilage between a joint wears down or sustains damage. It is the most common form of arthritis.

Osteoarthritis usually affects frequently used joints, such as the hips, knees, wrists, and elbows.

Some symptoms of osteoarthritis include:

  • a dull or aching pain in the joints
  • joint stiffness and swelling
  • a reduced range of motion or flexibility

Learn more about osteoarthritis here.


Currently, no cure for osteoarthritis exists. However, people can manage the symptoms by:

  • increasing physical activity levels
  • performing physical therapy exercises
  • maintaining a moderate weight
  • taking OTC or prescription pain relievers
  • using supportive mobility devices, such as canes, crutches, or walkers
  • undergoing surgery to remove loose fragments of bone or cartilage

Bursitis is a common condition that involves inflammation of a fluid-filled sac called a bursa.

Olecranon bursitis affects the bursa that sits between the bony end of the elbow and the skin.

Several potential factors can lead to swelling in the olecranon bursa. These can include:

  • a forceful impact or injury to the elbow
  • an underlying infection or inflammatory health condition
  • prolonged pressure on the tip of the elbow

Some symptoms of olecranon bursitis include:

  • a round, golf ball-sized lump on the elbow
  • pain or tenderness that worsens when bending the elbow
  • swelling of the elbow joint
  • an elbow that is flushed and warm to the touch
  • fever


People can treat most swollen, non-infected bursa with rest, ice packs, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.

Corticosteroid injections can help speed up the healing process but may increase the risk of infection.

A healthcare provider will prescribe an antibiotic or other antimicrobial medication if the inflammation is related to an infection.

A healthcare provider can usually diagnose the cause of left elbow pain with a physical examination.

They may also review the person’s medical history for previous injuries, infections, or a family history of osteoarthritis.

The healthcare provider may use one or more of the following tests to help them make their diagnosis:

  • X-ray
  • MRI scan
  • CT scan
  • a biopsy of the bursal fluid
  • joint aspiration, to collect joint fluid

The following tips may help prevent left elbow pain:

  • wearing elbow pads while playing sports
  • performing any repetitive elbow movements with correct form
  • stretching and warming up before lifting weights or playing sports
  • taking regular breaks from repetitive tasks
  • performing exercises that strengthen the elbow muscles

A person should consider seeing a doctor if they experience prolonged left elbow pain despite using at-home treatments, such as rest and OTC pain relievers.

People should seek immediate medical attention if they believe that they may have fractured a bone in their elbow.

Some symptoms to look for include:

  • sudden, severe pain
  • swelling, warmth, and discoloration
  • an inability to move the elbow or arm
  • numbness or weakness in the forearm, wrist, or hand

Left elbow pain has several possible causes. Blunt force injuries from motor vehicle accidents, falls, and sports-related collisions can result in soft tissue damage, ligament strains or sprains, and fractured or dislocated bones.

People who engage in activities that put continual stress on the forearm, wrist, or elbow can develop a repetitive use injury called epicondylitis.

Left elbow pain may also indicate an underlying health condition, such as osteoarthritis or an inflamed bursa.

Most causes of left elbow pain respond well to rest, OTC pain relievers, ice packs, and compression therapy.

A healthcare provider may recommend surgery if left elbow pain lasts for longer than 6 months despite the person trying conservative treatments.