The most common causes of elbow pain and why you should apply cold compression to treat it

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The most common causes of elbow pain and why you should apply cold compression to treat it

To athletes and daredevils, the word limit does not exist. As they push their bodies to run faster, lift heavier, throw farther and jump higher, the more susceptible they become to injuries, swelling and pain.  

Baseball, softball and tennis players are especially at a higher risk of elbow pain and injuries, as are arthritis patients and construction workers. 

When your daily routine is rudely interrupted by elbow pain, it’s time to nudge discomfort away with cold compression. If you’re not sure how it works, read on as we share some facts about how cold compression can get rid of elbow pain fast.  

Our elbow’s anatomy 

The elbow joint is categorized as a synovial joint, referring to a free movable joint, thanks to the synovial fluid that lubricates it.

Three bones make up the elbow: the humerus (upper arm bone), which runs from the shoulder to the elbow, and the radius and the ulna (forearm bones), which extend from the elbow to the wrist. A layer of cartilage on each bone surface separates the bones of the elbow joint, and they act as shock absorbers, too.

A fibrous capsule encloses the elbow joint and a synovial membrane internally cushions it to keep it stable and allows fluid movement at the same time. Muscles, ligaments and tendons are the other structures that complete the elbow.

What are the different types of pain?

We all know that pain is our body’s way of telling us that something is wrong, But did you know that there are different types of pain? Here are three of them:

Neuropathic pain

This develops when the nervous system, consisting of the spiral cord, brain and nerves, function abnormally (for instance, due to pinching issues). It is typically described as a shooting, burning or tingling pain.  

Nociceptive pain

This type of pain is usually associated with body tissue injuries such as a fracture, burns, cuts, sprains or strains. As a normal response to a specific situation (i.e injuries), it is generally acute and disappears when the injury has healed.

Psychogenic pain

As the term implies, psychological factors can make this type of pain worse. A person suffering from psychogenic pain may complain of severe pain or excessive symptoms compared to most patients with the same physical condition. 

These types of pain may either be acute, occurring for a few days or a few weeks and dissipate once the swelling or disease is resolved, or chronic, which lasts for a few months and could stretch for years.  

The 11 most common causes of elbow pain 

Most of the time, your elbow gets hurt for obvious reasons, such as an acute trauma from an injury or fall. Other times, it is caused by repetitive motions or specific health conditions. Here are the most common reasons for that tormenting elbow pain:

  • Fractured elbow – This is when any of your elbow bones break due to a high impact collision. 
  • Stress fracture – Repeated motion tends to induce minor cracks on your elbow bone overtime. 
  • Dislocated elbow – A trauma could also knock one of your elbow bones out of place.
  • Elbow sprain – This occurs when the ligaments in your elbow become torn or are stretched too much, causing an injury.  
  • Elbow strain – This is an injury to the muscle fibers in your elbow when they’re pushed too much, causing it to pull apart.
  • Tennis elbow – This is inflammation of a specific muscle and tendon on your forearm.

  • Golfer’s elbow – This is irritation or inflammation on the inner side of the arm due to repeated flexing or twisting of the wrist. 
  • Elbow bursitis – This occurs when there is inflammation of the bursae, or the fluid-filled sacs that cushion the bones and soft tissues. 
  • Pinched nerves – Pain ensues when your ulnar nerve located from your neck down to your hand becomes compressed.
  • Arthritis – This is painful inflammation of the joint, including your elbows.
  • Lyme disease – Joint pain is one of the common symptoms for this type of infection.

How does cold compression relieve elbow pain? 

Ice and compression are two key components of the RICE method, a widely recognized and effective self-care treatment for soft tissue injuries. Compression is done by applying adequate pressure on a sore or painful area. It is also useful in managing bleeding.

Ice or cold therapy reduces swelling by constricting the vessels and keeping unwanted fluids away from the injury site. It also minimizes pain by slowing down the receptors from sending pain messages to the brain. 

These are the reasons why your painful elbow needs cold compression, ASAP!

1. Cold compression reduces swelling

While swelling is the first step in healing from injuries, it can impede recovery if it lasts for too long. By applying cold compression to a fresh injury or a painful elbow, swelling and pain are controlled.

2. Cold compression relieves pain

As the painful area continues to swell, the pressure that goes with it continues to cause pain in your elbow. Applying counter pressure to the swollen and sore area reduces swelling and minimizes pain.

3. Cold compression improves blood circulation

It may not look like it, but compression facilitates blood circulation by keeping unwanted fluids away from the sore area and injury site. 

Cold compression is likewise recommended for post-surgery elbow pain, and it may help avoid blood clots from developing.

4. Cold compression promotes faster tissue repair

Reduced swelling coupled with the rush of oxygen and nutrient-rich blood and fluids can accelerate tissue repair. It also prevents lymph fluid build-up, which needs to flow seamlessly to transport cell and tissue wastes. 

5. Cold compression eases tension 

A snugly fit elbow wrap supports the tendons and relieves tension and pressure, which minimizes elbow inflammation over time.

How to apply compression for elbow pain

Elbow compression tools come in various shapes, forms and sizes, and they’re made from different materials, too, so each one may have a slightly different fit. 

If you don’t know what’s best for you, ask your doctor or read the points below to help you decide which one to choose. 

Elbow sleeves are usually lightweight and made of ultra-stretchable fabric. Elbow sleeves can be worn every day and they do contribute to managing pain by preventing muscle soreness and enhancing blood circulation. If you’ve just had elbow surgery, though, they may not be your best choice. 

Elbow braces differ from compression sleeves, in that they look more complex and serve a slightly different purpose. Some braces have straps that wrap around a specific arm region, likely below the elbow, to compress the forearm and absorb soft tissue shock in the wrist, elbow and forearm. 

Because they offer better coverage compared to elbow sleeves, elbow braces are ideal for people who experience elbow pain that radiates to the wrist and forearm or for those who are recovering from elbow injuries.

Elbow compression wraps may be the best option for those recovering from injury or surgery, too, especially if the wrap comes with gel packs that you can use for cold compression.   

One such product is the highly rated elbow ice pack by Magic Gel. The pack comes with neoprene straps that offer high-grade cooling compression and complete coverage to your elbow, making it the top choice among those suffering from elbow inflammation and injuries, as well as chronic and post-operative elbow pain. 

It fits snugly yet comfortably, giving you enough elbow room to stay active while waiting to recover from elbow injuries. Because it can protect your elbow and its surrounding parts, you don’t have to worry about aggravating your existing injuries. 

Elastic bandages are a good option if you’re using a simple or DIY ice pack to treat your sore elbow. You can grab an elastic bandage for cold compression application. 

To do this, wrap the bandage starting from the area closest to your heart, working your way down or toward the area away from it. Avoid wrapping too tightly, as it could worsen the inflammation. Watch out for numbness, tingling and increased swelling and pain.

Getting this multi-purpose ice pack will save you lots of time and worry. Sized perfectly, this pack also stays flexible from the freezer, allowing it to be placed on most parts of your body, including your elbow, knee, shoulder and ankle. It comes with an elastic bandage not only to keep the pack in place, but also to deliver much-needed cold compression. 

Other ways to treat and prevent elbow pain

Applying cold compression is only one of the many things you can do to treat elbow pain. These things can also help hasten your recovery:

  • Take some active rest.
  • Perform light stretches or exercises.
  • Take NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs).
  • Consider steroid injections.
  • Warm up by stretching your arms and elbow before engaging in exercise, sports or labour-intensive work.


By combining cold therapy and adequate pressure, cold compression becomes doubly effective in relieving acute and chronic elbow pain caused by health problems, injuries or post-surgery aches.   

Got something to say about your struggles and triumphs with elbow pain? Share your thoughts with us in the comments section. 

Hi, I’m Steve Stretton, owner and manager at If you’d like to know more about elbow ice packs and other cool products, don’t be shy, write us a message.

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