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Learn about your sharp elbow pain, including causes, treatment options and remedies. Or get a personalized analysis of your sharp elbow pain from our A.I. health assistant. At Buoy, we build tools that help you know what’s wrong right now and how to get the right care.

Sharp Elbow Pain Checker

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Sharp Elbow Pain Symptoms

Elbow pain can have different characteristics depending on the cause. Sharp elbow pain, which may be described as an electric-like or pins and needles sensation, can be particularly bothersome. In many cases sharp elbow pain will interfere with daily activities such as sports activities and household chores. It can be caused by problems with several structures. These include nerves above or running though the elbow, muscle tendons and their attachments to bones in the elbow, and the bones themselves.

Symptoms that can be associated with sharp elbow pain include:

Sharp Elbow Pain Causes Overview

Acute injury

  • Biceps tendon tear : A tear of the tendon that attaches the biceps to the elbow causes sudden sharp elbow pain along with weakness and a bulge in the upper arm. Tearing of the biceps tendon is typically caused by attempting to lift a heavy object.
  • Fracture : A fracture of one of the bones that make up the elbow can cause sharp pain along with swelling and weakness. This can occur due to falling directly on the elbow or landing on the hand with the arm stretched straight out.

Overuse injury

Repetitive motions at the elbow and wrist can cause an overuse injury of the tendons that attach to the elbow, resulting in sharp elbow pain symptoms. The pain will be located on the inner or outer side of the elbow, depending on the specific tendons affected, and will worsen with movement of the wrist or forearm.

Nerve injury

  • Nerve compression at the elbow : Multiple nerves run through the elbow and can be compressed due to repetitive elbow motions or anatomical abnormalities, resulting in sharp or "pins and needles" elbow pain. Depending on the specific nerve affected, there may also be pain in the ring and little fingers or in the forearm.
  • Nerve compression in the neck : Anatomical abnormalities in the neck such as arthritis can cause compression of nerves as they exit the spinal cord. Depending on the specific nerve affected, sharp elbow pain can result. Typically, there will also be pain in the neck and shoulder.

Top 10 Sharp Elbow Pain Causes

  1. 1.Tennis Elbow (Lateral Epicondylitis)

    Lateral epicondylitis (tennis elbow) is soreness or pain on the outside of the upper arm near the elbow.

    You can safely treat this condition on your own by resting your arm for 2-3 weeks and avoid the activity that causes your symptoms. You may also put ice on the outside of your elbow 2-3 times a day and take a pain reliever, such as ibuprofen (Advil), naproxen (Aleve) or aspirin, as needed. Contact your physician if home treatment does not relieve the pain.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    elbow pain, pain in one elbow, hand weakness, pain in the thumb side of the elbow, elbow pain from overuse
    Symptoms that always occur with tennis elbow (lateral epicondylitis):
    elbow pain
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment
  2. 2.Non - Specific Elbow Pain

    Elbow pain can be caused by a host of things, but is often idiopathic (without cause).

    Your elbow pain is normal and unlikely to be caused by a serious illness. You can try over the counter pain medication like Tylenol. If the pain becomes severe, see a physician.

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    elbow pain, pain in one elbow
    Symptoms that always occur with non-specific elbow pain:
    pain in one elbow
    Symptoms that never occur with non-specific elbow pain:
    recent elbow injury
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment
  3. 3.Ulnar Nerve Entrapment of Elbow

    Ulnar Nerve Entrapment of Elbow is the compression of the ulnar nerve, causing numbness and/or weakness in the hands.

    You should visit your primary care physician. Diagnosis is made by looking at your symptoms and confirmed with a test of the nerves. Treatment depends on severity. If no weakness, splinting and physical therapy. If weakness, surgery to decompress the nerve.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    hand weakness, pain in one hand, numbness in one hand, weakness in one hand, pain in one elbow
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  4. 4.Golfer's Elbow (Medial Epicondylitis)

    Medial epicondylitis (Golfer's Elbow) is similar to it's opposite cousin (Lateral Epicondylitis- Tennis Elbow). Both are caused by the overuse of the elbow, but this one is more frequent in golfers, bowlers, archers, and weight lifters.

    You can safely treat this condition on your. Treatment is conservative (physical therapy, Ibuprofen, rest, and a brace) for 6-12 months, after which surgery might become an option.

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    elbow pain, pain in one elbow, elbow pain from overuse, pain in the pinky side of the elbow
    Symptoms that always occur with golfer's elbow (medial epicondylitis):
    elbow pain
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment
  5. 5.Brachial Plexopathy

    The brachial plexus is a complex nerve network located in the upper chest deep to the collar bone, which supplies the shoulder, arm, forearm, and hand. Damage to the brachial plexus is usually due to mechanical injury or trauma, and can interfere with normal nerve function causing numbness, pain, and/or weakness.

    You should visit your primary care physician to discuss these symptoms. It is likely the doctor will perform a thorough physical exam, and in many cases refer you to a specialist, physical therapist, or both. A professional evaluation is very important, as surgical treatment might be required for a brachial plexus nerve injury.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    pain in one arm, shoulder pain that shoots to the arm, arm weakness, numbness in one arm, shoulder pain
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor

    Sharp Elbow Pain Checker

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  6. 6.Elbow Dislocation (Radial Head Subluxation)

    Radial head subluxation is a partial dislocation of a bone in the elbow called the radius. Dislocation means the bone slips out of its normal position.

    You should visit your primary care physician within the next 24 hours. Apply an ice pack to your elbow, but do not try to straighten or change position of your arm.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    pain in one elbow, swollen elbow, difficulty moving the elbow, elbow pain from an injury, holding arm close to body because of pain
    Symptoms that always occur with elbow dislocation (radial head subluxation):
    pain in one elbow
    Symptoms that never occur with elbow dislocation (radial head subluxation):
    elbow locking
    Urgency:
    In-person visit
  7. 7.Elbow (Olecranon) Bursitis

    Bursae are small fluid-filled sacks located around the body in strategic locations to provide a cushion and help reduce friction. Olecranon bursitis, or elbow bursitis, is an inflammation of the bursa right on the angle of the elbow, causing pain.

    You can safely treat this condition on your own. Commonly, resting the elbow, applying ice, compression, and keeping the elbow in a raised position can be helpful. Anti-inflammatory medication such as ibuprofen (Advil) may help reduce the pain symptoms as well.

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    pain in one elbow, swollen elbow, warm and red elbow swelling, elbow pain from an injury, elbow pain from overuse
    Symptoms that always occur with elbow (olecranon) bursitis:
    swollen elbow
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment
  8. 8.Pinched Nerve in the Neck

    With age, disks separating the cervical vertebrae (which are the bones of your spine in your neck) lose height as well as lose water content, becoming stiffer. The vertebrae move closer together, and nerves that exit between these bones may be pinched, causing pain to travel down the nerve as it passes through the arm. The pain is usually sharp, and some people report a "pins and needles" sensation or even complete numbness.

    You should visit your primary care physician who will coordinate your care with a muscle and bone specialist (orthopedic surgeon). Cervical radiculopathy is treated with pain medication, soft neck collars, and physical therapy.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    pain in one shoulder, spontaneous shoulder pain, pain that radiates down arm, pain in the back of the neck, severe shoulder pain
    Symptoms that always occur with pinched nerve in the neck:
    pain that radiates down arm
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  9. 9.Synovial Chondromatosis

    Synovial chondromatosis is a disease affecting the synovium, which is a thin flexible membrane around a joint. It can often be confused with tendinitis and/or arthritis.

    You should visit your primary care physician to discuss the possibility of removing the synovium.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    joint swelling, pain in one knee, swollen knee, swollen ankle, spontaneous knee pain
    Symptoms that always occur with synovial chondromatosis:
    joint swelling
    Symptoms that never occur with synovial chondromatosis:
    fever, night sweats, unintentional weight loss, warm red ankle swelling, warm red knee swelling, warm and red elbow swelling
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  10. 10.Elbow Sprain

    An elbow sprain is an injury of the tendons or muscles of the elbow.

    You should ice and rest your elbow using the RICE method. If the pain is too intense, using NSAIDs such as Ibuprofen can relieve the pain.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    elbow pain, elbow pain from an injury
    Symptoms that always occur with elbow sprain:
    elbow pain from an injury
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment

Sharp Elbow Pain Treatments and Relief

Seek emergency treatment if:

  • You have severe swelling, pain, an abnormal angle of the elbow, weakness, and/or exposed bone after an injury.
  • You have a bulge in the upper arm along with sudden sharp elbow pain after attempting to lift a heavy object.

In some cases, even though emergency care isn't necessary, you may need evaluation and treatment. Make an appointment with your medical provider if:

  • Your sharp elbow pain stays the same or progresses over time.
  • You have tingling, numbness, pain, or weakness in your fingers.
  • You have elbow weakness.
  • Your sharp elbow pain is preventing you from carrying out your usual activities, such as playing sports.

Your medical provider may prescribe one or more of the following treatments, depending on the cause of your sharp elbow pain:

  • Placing a splint on the elbow.

  • Referral for physical therapy.

  • Oral steroids to reduce inflammation affecting nerves or tendons.

  • Oral or topical pain medications.

  • Referral for surgical management if other treatments are not effective or if surgery is necessary to restore normal function after an injury.

Some home treatments may help with sharp elbow pain.

  • Avoid placing pressure on the elbow, which can exacerbate nerve compression. Elbow pads may also reduce pressure on the elbow.
  • Rest the elbow, and particularly avoid activities that seem to worsen the pain.
  • NSAIDs such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen can help with the sharp elbow pain.

FAQs About Sharp Elbow Pain

Here are some frequently asked questions about sharp elbow pain.

Is sharp elbow pain caused by a nerve problem?

A sharp or pins and needles pain in the elbow may be caused by problems with a nerve. Multiple nerves run through small spaces in the elbow and can get injured or compressed due to repetitive elbow motions, structural abnormalities, or pressure placed on the elbow. Finger tingling and weakness may occur with nerve compression in the elbow. Less commonly, compression of a nerve in the neck may cause sharp elbow pain.

Why am I having sharp pain in only one elbow?

Many causes of sharp elbow pain are likely to affect only one side at a time. Overuse injuries to the elbow may affect only one side; for example, the tendons attaching to the elbow in your dominant arm may become aggravated by repetitive motions due to playing a sport. Nerve compression can affect one side, such as if you tend to lean on one elbow while driving. In addition, an acute injury such as a fracture will likely occur in just one elbow.

Why do I get sharp elbow pain when I exercise?

Sharp elbow pain during exercise is likely due to an overuse injury. Repetitive motions of the wrist and forearm can cause accumulated damage to tendons that attach to the end of the humerus (the bone of the upper arm). The tendons attach to protuberances of the bone (epicondyles) — thus the overuse injury is epicondylitis. Depending on the exact tendons affected, the pain may be located on the inner side of the elbow (medial epicondylitis) or the outer side of the elbow (lateral epicondylitis). Sports activities such as golf and tennis can cause or exacerbate the pain.

What can I do to fix my sharp elbow pain?

Some causes of sharp elbow pain, such as overuse injuries of tendons attaching to the elbow, will resolve with conservative measures like resting and applying ice. If nerve compression is the cause of sharp elbow pain, splinting the elbow can help by preventing specific movements that exacerbate the problem. Physical therapy can be helpful with overuse injuries or nerve compression. Surgical management may be necessary for acute injuries or other causes that don’t respond to non-surgical treatment.

Why am I having sharp elbow pain along with neck and shoulder pain?

If your sharp elbow pain is accompanied by pain in the neck and shoulder, compression of a nerve in the neck is the most likely cause. Nerves may be compressed as they exit the spinal cord due to bony changes such as arthritis or anatomic abnormalities like a herniated disc. Neck movement typically exacerbates the pain, and other symptoms like elbow or shoulder weakness may also be present.

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Sharp Elbow Pain

  • Q.Is your elbow pain constant or come-and-go?
  • Q.How long has your elbow pain been going on?
  • Q.Is the pain affecting:
  • Q.How would you explain the cause of your elbow pain?

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions, check our sharp elbow pain symptom checker.

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Sharp Elbow Pain Symptom Checker Statistics

  • People who have experienced sharp elbow pain have also experienced:

    • 15% Pain in One Shoulder
    • 5% Pain in One Arm
    • 5% Elbow Pain
  • People who have experienced sharp elbow pain had symptoms persist for:

    • 44% Over a Month
    • 18% Less Than a Week
    • 16% Less Than a Day
  • People who have experienced sharp elbow pain were most often matched with:

    • 52% Tennis Elbow (Lateral Epicondylitis)
    • 27% Non - Specific Elbow Pain
    • 19% Ulnar Nerve Entrapment of Elbow
  • Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).

Sharp Elbow Pain Checker

Take a quiz to find out why you’re having sharp elbow pain.

Take a quiz