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  • Writer's pictureDr. Daniel Keadle

Chiropractic and Elbow Pain

Most Americans understand that chiropractors are great for things like headaches, back pain, sciatic, etc. but there are many more conditions that chiropractors have success with on a daily basis. Our “CHIRO SPOTLIGHT” series is dedicated to highlighting the conditions you may never have known we could help with. In today’s Chiro Spotlight, we’re going to take a dive into Elbow Pain. Let’s take a look at how your chiropractor can help and what the treatment(s) may actually look like!

Elbow Pain - Common Causes

For starters, lets look at some of most common causes of elbow pain:

  • Tennis Elbow aka Lateral Epicondylitis

  • Golfers Elbow aka Medial Epicondylitis

  • Tendonitis/Bursitis

  • Thoracic Outlet Syndrome

  • Subluxation of the Vertebrae in the neck (puts pressure on nerves going down the arm)

  • Subluxation of the a joint in your arm: Shoulder, Elbow, or Wrist

  • “Double Crush Syndrome” - Where you have a subluxation or other problem in your neck and in the arm as well.

While this seems like a wide variety of unrelated problems, chiropractors can often address them all! In school, chiropractic students spend hundreds of hours studying orthopedics and extremities. While we cannot fix a tear or give you an injection like an Orthopedic MD would, we do have a variety of techniques to address most of these problems.

Diagnosis and Treatment Overuse injuries such as tennis/golfers elbow, tendonitis, and bursitis are some of the most common injuries we see. These can be extremely frustrating because they tend to linger. In my clinical experience, a lot of these overuse injuries are caused by a combination of the following problems: 1) Inadequate recovery techniques 2) Muscular imbalances/weakness 3) Bad biomechanics or mobility problems. As chiropractors, we’re trained to help identify deficits or problems in all of these areas and can help you come up with short term and long term treatment plans. When looking at the elbow, we must consider how well the person’s wrist, elbow, and shoulder move. If we determine there are areas of restriction, we can address that through targeted chiropractic adjustments or manipulations. Next, we look to see if there are muscle groups like the forearm extensors or flexors, triceps, biceps, etc. that may be weak, tight, or not “engaging” properly. Issues here can be addressed through prescription of proper strengthening or stretching protocols for the individual muscle groups.

Finally for the inflammatory response/damage, aka the “ITIS” part of tendonitis, we have an amazing treatment called Low Level Laser Therapy or Cold Laser. The unit we use, from Lightforce Medical, is a 25W, Class IV medical infrared laser. Here’s a great description of what laser does:

Laser therapy is a medical treatment that uses focused light to stimulate a process called photobiomodulation, or PBM. During PBM, photons enter the tissue and interact with the mitochondria. This interaction triggers a biological cascade of events that leads to an increase in cellular metabolism, decrease in pain, reduction in muscle spasm, and improved microcirculation to injured tissue.

If you’d like to learn more about our laser unit, check out this VIDEO

After looking at the arm itself, we must also look to the cervical spine/neck of the patient. In many individuals, we see elbow pain that is not the result of an overuse injury. While this may be caused directly by a subluxation/fixation of the elbow itself, we often see issues in the neck that create a trickle-down effect and result in elbow pain. The reason for this is the nerves that run down your arm exit your spinal cord in your neck (you can see what this looks like in the image below). If there are areas of your spine that are “subluxated,” meaning they don’t move well and/or you have poor posture, those nerves can become irritated and create pain “downstream.” Even in patients that do have a primary elbow problem, we still like to address the cervical spine to make sure that the nerves are functioning properly which ensures a speedier healing process.

The End Result For the vast majority of patients come to us with elbow problems, we’re able to come up with an effective and affordable treatment plan. At worst, if we’re unable to treat the condition, we’re at least able to identify their problem and guide them towards the appropriate specialist or therapist. Most of the time, individuals will end up with a treatment plan that looks something like this: 2-3 Week Treatment Plan

  • At-home strengthening and/or stretching rehab routine

  • Chiropractic care addressing motion of their neck, shoulder, elbow, and wrist

  • A short series of Low Level Laser treatments (if it’s an overuse injury like tendonitis or epicondylitis)

For those that follow through on a treatment plan like this one, we often see extremely encouraging results. If you live in Raleigh, Cary, Wake Forest, or Durham, and run into elbow problems, we hope you’ll give us a call. If you’re not living in the Triangle Area, check out some local chiropractors and find one who has experience treating similar conditions. I think you’ll be surprised by the improvement you see!

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