Elbow icon

Elbow problems

Elbow problems can cause a range of symptoms, including:

  • pain
  • swelling
  • stiffness

You don’t normally need to see a healthcare professional. New onset or flare-up of a longstanding elbow problem should begin to settle within 6 weeks.

What causes elbow problems?

Elbow problems can be the result of an injury from sport or due to repetitive movements of the elbow. It may also be due to a flare-up of an existing problem

Problems on the outside of your elbow are often called tennis elbow, and on the inside, golfers elbow.

Can this cause problems anywhere else?

You may feel some pain in the muscles around your elbow and down to your wrist. You may also have altered feeling into your fingers. These should improve as your elbow problem gets better.


Keeping your elbow moving is an essential part of your treatment and recovery. Keeping active is the single best thing you can do for your general health.

Being physically active throughout your recovery can:

  • prevent a recurrence of the problem
  • maintain your current levels of fitness – even if you have to modify what you normally do, any activity is better than none
  • keep your other muscles and joints strong and flexible

It’s recommended you stay at or return to work as quickly as possible during your recovery. You don’t need to be pain and symptom-free to return to work.

Pain treatments

Pain medication can help to reduce the pain and help you move more comfortably, which can help your recovery.

Speak to your community pharmacist about taking medication or other methods of pain relief​. It’s important to take medication regularly.​

Resting or moving?

  • Within the first 24 to 48 hours after an elbow injury you should try to:
  • rest your elbow but avoid long spells of not moving at all
  • move your elbow gently for 10 to 20 seconds every hour when you are awake

After 48 hours:

  • Try to use your arm more – exercise really helps your elbow and can relieve pain.
  • Do whatever you normally would and stay at, or return to work – this is important and is the best way to get better. You may need to adapt how you do things initially.
  • Avoid sports or heavy lifting until you have less discomfort and good movement.

When to speak to a health professional

  • If there’s been significant trauma – for example a fall from height or direct blow to the elbow
  • you can’t move your elbow at all
  • Help and support
  • If, after following the above advice, your elbow problem hasn’t improved within 6 weeks a self referral to TIMS may be of benefit.
  • To refer yourself to TIMS you will need to have your NHS number to hand.
  • For information on where to find your NHS number see NHS England – How can I find out my NHS number?

Useful links about elbow pain

  • Information leaflets developed by TIMS giving advice on:
  • Versus Arthritis elbow pain information booklet. Elbow pain is a very common problem but it’s not usually a sign of arthritis or any other underlying medical condition. This booklet we’ll explain the common causes of elbow pain such as tennis elbow, golfers elbow, bursitis and entrapment syndromes what you can do to ease the problem.