A woman touching her elbow.

Non-Surgical Treatments for Elbow Pain

This article was written by Chris Marshall

From playing baseball as a kid to brushing your teeth or even putting on your jacket, the elbow is used continuously throughout the day.

As the elbow allows for a wide range of everyday activities, it can become a huge hindrance if it's not working to its full ability.

In fact, musculoskeletal pain is the number one reason people visit their doctors each year.

To prevent yourself from wincing every time pressure is placed on the elbow or to put a halt to those sleepless nights filled with pain, we’ve outlined the very best elbow pain treatment without surgery.


What Is the Fastest Way to Relieve Elbow Pain?


The fastest way to relieve elbow pain is through a combination of treatments. Often, simple pain medications are usually the go-to for finding quick relief.   

In the first stages of dealing with the injury or pain, resting, stretching, or bracing the elbow can help ease discomfort.

At this stage, you should also seek to understand the cause and this will further help with any treatment options.

If the cause is due to overuse of a muscle group, you should rest this area and stop whichever activity, sport, or hobby is putting pressure on the elbow.

A brace is another possibility to take some of the immediate strain. These can often be purchased at most drugstores and will help to keep the muscles and tendons still. However, you should remove the brace several times a day to gently stretch the elbow and wrist.

Going forward, a combination of rest, stretching, and red light therapy could do the world of good for your elbow pain.


Common Conditions and Causes for Elbow Pain


Elbow pain can be due to a whole range of issues - from repetitive motions to falling on an outstretched arm - but here are some of the most common.


Elbow Arthritis

Elbow arthritis is synonymous with swelling, redness, and tenderness around the elbow joint. When this occurs, it means the cartilage in the elbow has become worn or damaged due to either an injury, overuse, age, or repetitive activities.

Causes: Rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, gout, psoriatic arthritis, juvenile arthritis, lupus-related arthritis, and other causes of elbow pain.

Lateral Epicondylitis (Tennis Elbow)

Tennis elbow is when the tendons that allow your wrist to bend backward are swollen or torn. This happens when the forearm muscles are overused, hence the infamous name ‘tennis elbow’ as the motion of hitting the tennis racket can cause excessive strain.

Causes: Overuse of the forearm muscles without proper rest or recovery, direct trauma, muscle imbalances, improper technique, or repetitive movements.

Elbow Bursitis

Olecranon bursitis (known simply as ‘elbow bursitis’) is when there’s inflammation in the olecranon bursa - the fluid-filled sac that protects your elbow.

These sacs surround all the major joints in your body, with the purpose of protection and to reduce friction between the skin and bone. In the elbow, the bursa sits at the bony tip.

Causes: Trauma or direct impact, infection, overuse, repetitive motions, or pressure and friction.

Direct Impact

As with any part of the body, trauma or a blow to the area can cause immense pain and long-lasting effects. Direct impact could refer to a collision or a forceful event that can lead to a fracture, sprain, strain, soft tissue damage, or even dislocation of the elbow joint.

Causes: Falls, car accidents, sports-related collisions or accidents, contact with solid objects, bike accidents, etc.

Treatment Options Without Surgery

Surgery isn’t always the answer. In fact, it tends to only be required or recommended when the pain is persistent or severe, with significant damage to the elbow. Huge blows to the elbow are likely to require surgery.

For those suffering from elbow conditions, consult with a medical professional to understand the severity of any damage and whether surgery is needed.

If you’ve been advised against having a procedure, consider elbow pain treatment without surgery. Here are six of the best options…

Physical Therapy

Physical therapy can be hugely beneficial for elbow pain - especially if you’re experiencing tennis elbow, bursitis, or arthritis.

Seeking out an experienced physio means you’ll get an expert opinion and guidance to create a plan that is right for you.

A customized rehabilitation program will be created to address the specific needs and underlying causes of your pain.

In time, the combination of exercises and therapies should reduce pain and allow you to gain strength in the elbow. This will bring on a wider range of motion and potentially a correction in the joint, depending on what is causing the pain.

Medication for Pain Relief

Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, etc) and naproxen sodium (Aleve) are among some of the most common pain reliever medications. While they could dull the pain and help ease discomfort, they won’t get rid of the issue.

The pain can be addressed, but only temporarily and the root of the issue will not be ironed out with tablets. This should only ever be a short-term approach.

You should use these as directed and should contact a medical professional if you have any concerns or are looking for other medication that may be suitable.


Corticosteroids are injections that reduce inflammation and alleviate pain. It contains a synthetic drug that mimics the effects of cortisol - the hormone produced by the adrenal glands.

They can be beneficial to provide short-term relief from symptoms and should always be administered by a qualified healthcare professional.

A downside, similar to the above medications, is that it’s not a long-term fix. While it can provide relief, some potential side effects could be felt. These typically include temporary discomfort or pain at the injection site, mild swelling, elevated blood sugar levels, changes in mood, or infection.

Some side effects can be rare, but it’s worth checking in with a healthcare professional to see if corticosteroids are right for you.

Red Light Therapy


Red light therapy is a non-invasive treatment that uses specific wavelengths to stimulate cellular activity and promote function, repair, and regeneration.

It can be used in a targeted way, so there’s ultimate precision as you can apply it directly to the affected area.

Once the light penetrates the skin and is absorbed by cells, it stimulates the production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP). ATP is an energy-carrying molecule that works like a charged battery or a full piggy bank; you can store energy in it and withdraw when needed.

This increased cellular energy leads to enhanced tissue repair, reduced inflammation, and the release of endorphins which are the body's natural pain relievers.

This means any swelling in the elbow (which limits motion and range) can be improved and tissue can be repaired quicker than the body’s natural response.



Bracing and Supporting

Using a brace or support with medical-grade compression can help reduce pain and inflammation for minor elbow injuries.

A combination of resting when needed and bracing the elbow is a small part of a bigger treatment plan. Braces, for example, should only be worn during activities that create the pain you’re feeling, or if you’ll be carrying out repetitive motions.

They work by compressing the muscle so you can’t exert as much force as you normally would. This results in less strain and tension on the injured area.

Tip: To get the best out of your brace, you should actually wear it on your forearm, just below your elbow. It should be snug against your skin and you should see an inch of skin between your elbow crease and the brace.

Lifestyle Changes

Elbow pain can derive from activities you take on in your daily life. For example, if you work in a manually laborious job, carrying out certain motions repeatedly like hammering or sawing can contribute to strain on your elbow muscles and tendons.

To prevent this or lessen the load, take regular breaks and use proper lifting and tool-handling techniques to reduce the risk of developing or worsening pain.

If your day-to-day involves a spot of tennis, golf, or badminton for exercise, there are some small tweaks you can do to help your elbow in the long run. You should prioritize warming up and carrying out a pre-workout routine that involves dynamic stretching of the forearm muscles, wrist flexors, and extensors.

You should make sure the equipment you’re using is up to par and has good shock absorption. Playing with the correct technique is important too.

Going beyond some typical daily activities, your nutrition should come into focus as well.

Proteins and carbohydrates should be a key focal point of your diet after joint replacement surgery. These promote healing and provide the calories needed to provide the body with energy while it does this.

Calcium is good for bone healing. Vitamin C is useful for healing ligaments and tendons, which hold bones together and provide structure to the joint.


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When Should You Consult Your Doctor?


If you’ve experienced direct trauma to your elbow (be it a fall, car accident, workplace injury, or similar) you should see your doctor as soon as possible - especially if you hear a snap or cracking sound.

Other warning signs include severe pain, swelling, and bruising around the joint. If you’re unable to move your arm or use it as you usually would, you should contact your healthcare professional.

You should always seek emergency care straight away if there’s an obvious deformity in the elbow or bone that is protruding from the skin. This includes if the elbow is now sitting at a strange and unusual angle.

For those who are dealing with prolonged elbow pain, which isn’t improving, worsening redness and swelling, or pain that occurs even when not using the arm, you should make an appointment with your healthcare provider too.


What Happens if Elbow Pain Is Left Untreated?


TIf elbow pain is left untreated and lifestyle activities are unchanged, it can advance into chronic pain or even a degenerative condition like tendinosis. This could put your tendons at risk of tearing.    

Left without any attempt for recovery, nerve entrapment could also form in the forearm.

However, most elbow pain is said to be from a very simple cause which then clears up within a few days. If continued, you should seek support and a diagnosis for the cause.

Knowing what has prompted the pain will help you to assess the recovery steps going forward.


How Can Red Light Therapy Speed up Elbow Pain Recovery?    


Light therapy harnesses specific red light energy at the site of pain/injury to catalyze cell renewal, increase circulation, and promote healing and recovery.  

With Kineon’s MOVE+ device, treatment sessions can happen whenever and however you want.


To join the thousands who are utilizing the holistic healing potential of light, try a 30-day at-home trial of the MOVE+ Pro - the next generation of laser light technology.

For more articles on red light therapy, read:

Chris Marshall

Chris Marshall

Job Title: Health and Fitness Content Writer
Location: United Kingdom
Bio: Chris Marshall is an experienced health and fitness writer with a passion to empower others to achieve better health and well-being through meaningful lifestyle changes.

With a background in nutrition and fitness, Chris aims to deliver science-based, informative content to educate others.

Alongside health and fitness writing, he also works with private online clients to build positive lifestyle habits and improve their overall well-being.

About Kineon

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