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Elbow Pain When Bending: Causes, Relief, and Prevention

Mar 07, 2024

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Elbow pain when bending can significantly impact daily life, making simple tasks challenging. This discomfort may stem from various conditions, including tendonitis, bursitis, and rheumatoid arthritis, which affect the elbow's function and flexibility. 

Risk factors such as repetitive movements, sports, aging, and previous injuries can increase the likelihood of developing elbow pain. Early intervention is crucial to prevent complications like chronic pain and limited mobility. 

Treatment options range from physical therapy to lifestyle changes, emphasizing the importance of understanding and addressing the underlying causes of elbow pain.

elbow pain when bending

Causes of Elbow Pain When Bending

Elbow pain can emerge from a variety of conditions, affecting our ability to bend and straighten the arm comfortably. Understanding these causes is the first step towards effective management and treatment. Below are the main reasons why you might experience discomfort in your elbow.


Tendonitis is a common culprit behind elbow pain, particularly when bending the arm. This condition arises from the inflammation of tendons, which are the tough bands of tissue connecting muscles to bones. In the elbow, tendonitis often targets the areas where the forearm muscles attach to the outer and inner parts of the elbow. These are known as tennis elbow and golfer's elbow, respectively. Symptoms include pain and tenderness on the outside or inside of the elbow, especially when bending or gripping objects.


Another frequent cause of elbow discomfort is bursitis, an inflammation of the bursa. The bursa are small, fluid-filled sacs that cushion the bones, tendons, and muscles near the joints. When these sacs become inflamed, particularly around the elbow joint, it can lead to significant pain when bending or moving the arm. Activities that put repeated pressure on the elbow or involve frequent bending and straightening can exacerbate this condition.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disorder that can lead to elbow pain, among other joint issues. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), 20–50% of patients with rheumatoid arthritis have involvement of their elbows. This statistic highlights how RA can significantly impact elbow function, causing pain when bending and straightening the arm. The inflammation associated with RA can make the elbow stiff and tender, further limiting movement and comfort.

Risk Factors Contributing to Elbow Pain

Understanding the causes of elbow pain is crucial, but recognizing the risk factors can be equally important for prevention and early intervention. Here are several factors that can increase your likelihood of experiencing elbow discomfort:

  • Repetitive Motion Activities: Engaging in activities or jobs that require repetitive arm movements or elbow bending can strain the elbow over time. This includes sports like tennis or golf, as well as professions involving painting, carpentry, or typing.
  • Sports Participation: Athletes, especially those involved in racquet sports or activities requiring throwing, are at a higher risk of developing elbow pain. The repeated use and stress on the elbow joints and tendons can lead to conditions such as tendonitis.
  • Age and Lifestyle: While elbow pain can affect individuals of any age, certain age-related degenerative conditions increase the risk. Additionally, a sedentary lifestyle may contribute to joint stiffness and pain.
  • Previous Injury: A history of elbow or arm injuries can predispose an individual to further elbow pain. Previous fractures, dislocations, or sprains can weaken the joint and make it more susceptible to pain when bending or performing activities.


By identifying the causes and recognizing the risk factors associated with elbow pain, individuals can take proactive steps towards managing their symptoms. 

If you're unsure whether your daily activities or past injuries are contributing to your elbow pain, an online tool like Docus Symptom Checker offers a personalized way to assess your symptoms. 

Potential Complications from Untreated Elbow Pain

Ignoring elbow pain, especially when symptoms persist over time, can lead to a range of complications that affect not only the elbow but also the overall quality of life. Untreated conditions can evolve into chronic pain, making everyday activities challenging and decreasing the range of motion. This stiffness can hinder the ability to fully bend or straighten the arm, complicating tasks that once were simple, like lifting groceries or even dressing. 

Moreover, chronic conditions can lead to muscle weakness or atrophy due to decreased use, further impacting arm function. Therefore, addressing elbow pain promptly is crucial to avoid these long-term complications.

Treatment Options for Elbow Pain When Bending

Effective treatment for elbow pain hinges on the underlying cause. A multifaceted approach may be necessary to alleviate pain and restore function. Below are the primary treatment options.

Physical Therapy

Physical therapy is a cornerstone in treating elbow pain, offering exercises tailored to strengthen the muscles around the elbow and enhance flexibility. Physical therapists may employ techniques like massage, ultrasound, or heat therapy to reduce inflammation and promote healing. For individuals experiencing pain when bending the elbow, specific exercises designed to stretch and gradually strengthen the affected area can be particularly beneficial.

Home Remedies and Lifestyle Changes

Several home remedies can provide relief for elbow pain:

  • Rest: Avoiding activities that exacerbate the pain is essential for healing.
  • Ice: Applying ice packs to the elbow for 15-20 minutes several times a day can help reduce inflammation and alleviate pain.
  • Compression: Using an elastic bandage can provide support and help reduce swelling.
  • Elevation: Keeping the elbow raised above heart level can also minimize swelling.


Lifestyle adjustments, like setting up an ergonomic workspace or modifying exercise routines, can prevent pain flare-ups.


Over-the-counter pain relievers and anti-inflammatory medications can help manage pain and swelling. However, it's important to use these under the guidance of a healthcare provider to avoid potential side effects.


In cases where conservative treatments do not provide relief, and the pain is due to structural issues or severe damage, surgery may be considered. Surgical options vary depending on the condition but may involve repairing damaged tissues or removing inflamed bursae.

Preventing Elbow Pain When Bending

Prevention is key to avoiding elbow pain and its associated complications. Here are some strategies to help protect your elbows:

  • Exercise Regularly: Incorporating exercises that strengthen the arm, shoulder, and wrist can help stabilize the elbow joint.
  • Take Breaks: When engaging in repetitive tasks, take short breaks to stretch and give your elbow a rest.
  • Use Proper Techniques: Whether playing sports or lifting objects, using the correct form can help prevent strain on the elbow.
  • Ergonomic Adjustments: For those who work at a desk, ensure the workstation is set up to support good posture and wrist position.


By understanding the treatments available and implementing preventative measures, individuals experiencing elbow pain when bending and straightening can take control of their symptoms and work towards a pain-free life.

Key Takeaways

  • Elbow pain when bending and straightening can be caused by conditions such as tendonitis, bursitis, and rheumatoid arthritis, which affect the elbow's flexibility and functionality.
  • Risk factors like repetitive motion activities, sports participation, aging, and previous injuries can increase the likelihood of experiencing elbow pain.
  • Untreated elbow pain can lead to complications, including chronic pain, limited mobility, and muscle weakness, emphasizing the importance of early intervention.
  • Treatment options range from physical therapy and home remedies to medication and, in some cases, surgery, depending on the cause and severity of the pain.
  • Preventive measures, such as regular exercise, taking breaks during repetitive tasks, using proper techniques in sports and daily activities, and making ergonomic adjustments, can significantly reduce the risk of elbow pain.
  • Utilizing tools like the Symptom Checker can help individuals understand their symptoms and risk factors. Remember, online tools are not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always consult a professional before taking any actions.

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