Elbow Anatomy and Function
The elbow is formed by the joining/articulation of the forearm bones called the radius and ulna and the upper arm bone called the humerus. Flexion and extension occur at the ulnohumeral joint and is powered by the biceps/brachialis and triceps muscles, respectively. Rotation of the forearm is called supination and pronation and occurs at the radiohumeral and radioulnar articulations. The biceps muscle generates supination and the pronator teres generates pronation.
The epicondyles are bumps or prominences on the inner (medial) or outer (lateral) sides of the elbow at the end of the humerus bone, and are common sites of pain origination at the elbow. The tendons that flex and extend the fingers and wrist attach there.
There are multiple bursae around the elbow, which are fluid filled sac-like structures that are clefts between moving tissues. The most clinically important and noticeable bursa around the elbow is the olecranon bursa, which is at the back of the elbow. Swelling of the olecranon bursa known is common and easily observed, called bursitis.
The flexion/extension arc of the elbow is like a hinge with the supports on the hinge called the collateral ligaments. It a specific part (anterior band) of the medial (inner) collateral ligament that can become injured in throwing athletes and the lateral (outer) collateral ligament that is injured when the elbow dislocates with traumatic injury.
While there are many painful diagnoses originating at the soft tissues of the elbow, some elbow pain can originate from other sources including from the shoulder or from the nerves near the neck. This phenomenon is called referred pain and can often be indistinguishable from pain originating at the elbow itself. Sometimes imaging and a detailed physical examination are necessary to confirm the source of pain and to correctly treat the problem.
At a Glance
Dr. Thomas Obermeyer
- 15+ years of training and experience treating complex shoulder and sports medicine conditions
- Expert subspecialized and board-certified orthopedic care
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