Elbow pain can make daily tasks difficult, particularly when taking care of a baby. Overuse of the muscles that bend the wrist forward and backward can lead to tendinitis in the elbow, where these muscles attach. Lifting, carrying and holding a baby frequently can overwork these muscles. However pain can be reduced with conservative treatment interventions.
Elbow tendinitis can affect tendons of the inner or outer elbow, or both. Muscles that straighten the fingers and bend the wrist backward are collectively called the extensors. These muscles run along the back of the forearm and come together to form the common extensor tendon. This tendon attaches to the lateral epicondyle, the pointed bone on the outside of the elbow. Tendinitis in the common extensor tendon is called tennis elbow or lateral epicondylitis. The flexors are a group of muscles that bend the fingers and wrist forward. These muscles run along the front of the forearm and join together to form the common flexor tendon. This tendon attaches to the medial epicondyle, the pointed bone on the inside of the elbow. Golfer's elbow and medial epicondylitis are common terms for this type of tendinitis.
The main symptom of elbow tendinitis is pain with activity, typically located on the common flexor or extensor tendon where it attaches to the bone. The affected area may also be swollen and sore to the touch. Wrist flexor muscles are used extensively when holding a baby, leading to pain at the inside of the elbow. The wrist extensors are used to lift a baby out of a crib or seat and during bottle feeding. Overuse of the wrist extensors can lead to pain on the outside of the elbow. Over time, weakness can develop in the forearm muscles, causing decreased grip strength and clumsiness.
Activities are easily modified to reduce pain from elbow tendinitis. When a baby is nursing or feeding from a bottle, a pillow placed under the adult's arms supports the weight of the baby and relieves tension on elbow tendons. Whenever possible, hold the baby in front of your body -- closer to your center of gravity -- rather than on your hip. Holding a baby on your hip strains the tendon on the inside of the elbow. A front or back baby carrier allows the baby to be held without straining the elbow tendons. Performing other tasks with the wrists in a straight position also reduces strain on the elbow tendons. For example, slide your hands under the baby in a palms-up position to lift him out of his crib rather than lifting him under his arms.
Physical therapy is often prescribed to treat postpartum elbow tendinitis. Heat, ultrasound, electrical stimulation, massage and low-level laser therapies are used to increase blood flow and decrease inflammation in the painful area. A strap can be worn around the forearm, approximately two finger-widths below the elbow crease, to reduce strain on the flexor or extensor tendons at the elbow during daily activities. These straps often have a pad or cushion that is positioned over the targeted muscles, either the extensors or the flexors. A wrist cock-up splint can be worn to immobilize the wrist and prevent use of these muscles. A cortisone injection in the affected tendon may be recommended by your doctor.
- United States Lactation Consultant Association: Preventing Musculoskeletal Pain in Mothers -- Ergonomic Tips for Lactation Consultants
- Journal of Orthopaedic Science: Current Concepts of Elbow-Joint Disorders and Their Treatment
- FittoDeliver.com: Parenting the Ergonomic Way
- Clinical Orthopaedics and Related Research: Treatment of Tendinopathy -- What Works, What Does Not, and What Is on the Horizon
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