Coffee time elbow…

My elbow, or more accurately the area just on the forearm outward side of the elbow, has been sore lately. If I pick something up it twinges, or if I hold the arm straight and make a fist it hurts.

It has been painful, but not debilitating- like a lot of things that happen with my joints since I turned thirty, I more or less just have been living with it. After some poking around on the internet, I found some references to tennis elbow and concluded that this was the most likely culprit. I decided to give it a couple of weeks and, if treating it like tennis elbow with cold packs and compression improved it, to assume I was on the right track.

Basically, tennis elbow or “lateral epicondylitis” as it is correctly known is a repetitive stress injury. Of course I don’t play tennis, and in fact don’t do much of anything that involves repetitive use of my elbow, at least not that I could think of. But as I went to wash my coffee travel mug the other day, I painfully discovered one thing that I do that, in retrospect, almost certainly is the root of the pain.

The cause of my elbow pain is… washing my travel mug. To wash my mug, I fill it with water and cleanser, then shake it by swinging my arm at the elbow with an abrupt “stop” at the end of the swing, intended to break loose any “gunk” in the cap part of the mug. Picture two pieces of wood with a joint attaching them in the middle (my arm). Now put a one pound weight at one end (the travel mug filled with water), and imagine “snapping” that apparatus a hundred or so times. This would put a ton of strain on the joint and, in the case of a real arm, the tendons that hold the joint together. Thus my elbow tendon pain.

Once I started thinking down this path I recalled one other thing I did with my elbow involving a similar motion. I have a watch that has one of those “perpetual” winding mechanisms (in this case it is electric and it is a charging mechanism, but the idea is the same). Each time your arm swings, a weighted disk spins several hundred times and charges the watch. Well, I let it go dead a couple of times in the last month, and guess how I quickly recharged it? Yep, that’s right: by holding the watch in my hand and “snap swinging” my arm to spin the disk as fast as I could.

Mystery solved, and two more things for me to avoid in the future at the risk of causing myself mysterious aches and pains…

5 thoughts on “Coffee time elbow…”

  1. It could also be “golfer’s elbow (or pitcher’s elbow)” which is very similiar to “Tennis elbow”. But the pain is in a slightly different spot.

    Either way, it isn’t much fun, and although the pain is not debilitating, it is very annoying.

    Over the course of about a year, back in 99, I went through months and months of physio for my left elbow I also went the cortisone shot route as well. Which are almost as bad as the injury itself.

    The cortizone helps for a bit, but overall I don’t think it does much. And now, for the most part, Dr.’s don’t bother with injections.

    After your 3 shot “limit” of cortisone, if physical therapy or exercise doesn’t work, the only other option (other then living with the discomfort) is for a surgeon to cut a piece of the tendon away, and then surgically re-staple the tendon to the bone.

    I still get this pain once in awhile, but usually when I don’t use my head and decide not to wear my elbow brace while at the gym.


    Some exercies you can try that may help your elbow. After the initial pain and swelling has gone down of course…

    Forearm curls, both regular and reverse. I would use a dumbell not a barbell, so you aren’t forcing your elbows into a locked position.

    Also, any sort of light bicep and tricep work can help as well.

    I also take Glucosamine sulphate for my joints, even though there is quite a bit of evidence to suggest that it doesn’t help much.

    I swear by it. I have been taking it daily for a decade, and haven’t required another cortizone shot since then. Or any physical therapy, other then what I do in the gym or what not. The way I figure, if it helps then it must be good to take :).

    Hopefully your pain won’t last for months and months. Just take a few days off of the computer and keep ice on it, you should be ok 🙂

  2. Heya, Shane!

    If I hold the arm straight and make a tense fist positioned as if I am holding a coffee cup, the ache is along the top (mostly) and outside (a little) of the arm just below the elbow. The pain feels deep like the bone is aching, and radiates along the arm from that point. I’m not sure, but I *think* outside elbow injuries are “tennis” elbow?

    Anyway, I’ve looked at other things I do: I have some anti-ergonomic stuff going on at my desk at home. Because of how my keyboard tray sits, the mouse isn’t at the same level as the keyboard: I don’t think that helps. So I’ve been playing with various ways to bring it in line. I’ve noticed that the pain is a bit less significant and frequent than it was a couple of weeks ago. I notice it most frequently if I “reach” for something and pick it up, even something as small as a cup of coffee or something. I’ve been taking “joint support” vitamins (glucosamine, chondroitin, and some other stuff) for several months, since before the problem started. But I’m not sure I’m doing all the right things yet. I think I first noticed the pain back in July, so that’s over two months now.

    Exercise seems counter-intuitive to me: how do I know if the exercise isn’t putting more strain on the already damaged tendon? I’m prone to just babying the arm: it’s not like there is much muscle there to begin with 😉

  3. Yeah the exercise isn’t something you do until the pain subsides. Then you need to work the muslces that support your ligaments (foreams, biceps, triceps), and hope that it doesn’t happen again 🙂

    I came across this site, which could probably help you see what injury you have. It sounds like you may even have Bursitis? Which is mentioned at the link.

    And no matter what is actually wrong with your elbow, an elbow strap is a must. Below is a link of a picture so you can see what I am talking about. It helped me quite a bit. Then once my initial pain was gone, I just went to a neoprene elbow brace.

  4. Figuring out which of several similar “inflamed / damaged tendon injuries” I’m talking about is tough. Here is what I’ve worked out so far:

    • bursitis is injury/damage to the “back” of the elbow: the way I understand it, this is the part of the elbow that rests on the table if you have put your elbow on the table and lean your chin on your hand. It can be caused by striking or a blow to the elbow, as well as the usual “repetitive stress” causes
    • Tennis elbow relates to tendons on the “outside” of the elbow below the joint (towards the wrist),
    • and golfers elbow is tendons on the “inside” at about the same point on the arm.

    Now we get the problem: when they say “inside” and “outside”, what do they really mean?

    I finally found a picture that helps here=> that shows the “posture” of the arm. In the picture, the arm is sort of resting on a table: my bad manners again! In this posture, the “outside” is the part away from the body: that’s where my pain is, so I think my problem is lateral epicondylitis or “tennis elbow”. Funny: you wouldn’t think describing something like this would be hard, but it is!

    This site=> has some discussion of ‘phases’ and appropriate rehabilitative therapy at each phase. I bought one of those straps: basically, as I understand it you adjust the pad so it sits over the “painful” area, which applies pressure there and presumably restricts movement in that area. There is a picture of it at the above site, adjusted for tennis elbow=> I wore it quite a bit for a few days, but I find it sort of uncomfortable for extended wear.

  5. Yeah it sounds like you have Tennis elbow. And one thing to keep in mind, it is good to wean yourself off of the brace (like that website says), but whenever you are going to do something physical, in the future, make sure you put it on, or a neoprene brace. That old saying, “an ounce of prevention…” works wonders in regards to tennis elbow.

    And one thing to keep in mind…

    “Rest – this means avoiding further overuse not absence of activity. You should maintain as high an activity level as possible while avoiding activities that aggravate the injury”

    So start using the leg machine part on your gym 😛

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