Technology and Elbow Pain
By Lindsey Rose, PT, DPT, BS
Performing Arts Medicine Outreach
Technology surrounds us, whether it is your computer at work or the cell phone that never leaves your side. While technology has made a tremendous impact on society, it also poses a threat of overuse causing possible upper extremity injuries. This article is designed to bring awareness to a few of the most common causes of elbow pain. In the clinic we are seeing more and more patients with elbow injuries, most commonly caused by overuse.
The most common types of elbow pain include medial and lateral epicondylitis, often referred to as golfer’s elbow and tennis elbow, respectively. For an anatomy review, the wrist extensors, the muscles that move the wrist into extension attach at the lateral epicondyle. The wrist flexors, the muscles that move your wrist into flexion, attach at the medial epicondyle. Overuse during repetitive activities (such as golf or tennis) causes inflammation at the attachment site causing pain. Medial and lateral epicondylitis are both considered a Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI). Pain may be experienced as hot, sharp and right near the elbow, which typically indicates a tendon issue or a dull, aching pain suggesting more involvement of the forearm musculature.
While not everyone is a golfer or a tennis player, something that can cause similar symptoms is the overuse of devices such as computers and cell phones. Elbow pain from typing can present similarly to lateral epicondylitis, due to overuse of the wrist extensors, from poor positioning of the wrist. It is important to think about posture and wrist placement when typing. Ideally the wrist should be in a neutral position (see picture below).
One other problem that is becoming more common as we are more reliant on technology is cubital tunnel syndrome, or compression of the ulnar nerve. The cubital tunnel refers to the inner part of the elbow, a space where the ulnar nerve passes through on its way to the hand. Cubital tunnel syndrome is the second most common nerve-compression syndrome behind carpal tunnel syndrome. When talking on the phone the elbow is held in a flexed, unnatural position irritating the cubital tunnel, causing possible nerve entrapment, this is referred to as “cell phone elbow”. The ulnar nerve is also aggravated by long periods of leaning your elbow on the desk while typing or leaning on an armchair in an overly flexed position. The elbow isn’t meant to be over flexed for long periods of time, therefore it is important when setting up your workspace to have your elbows bent at less than a 90-degree angle.
It is inevitable in this day and age that we use technology in our everyday lives whether it is for recreational or occupational activities, but education is the best tool for prevention. Below find a home program that will help with prevention and for rehabilitation if you are experiencing any of these types of symptoms. If you or someone you know are experiencing elbow pain, call one of our locations to schedule a free screen and learn more about how to alleviate your symptoms and prevent further issues.
Rehabilitation Program for Elbow Pain
Stretch wrist flexors and extensors
Wrist Extensor stretch (Left), Wrist Flexor stretch (Right)
Strengthen wrist and forearm
Forearm: Pronation (palm down), Supination (palm up)
Wrist: Flexion (Left), Extension (Right)
Grip Strength Activities
Focus on proper desk setup and ergonomics