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Why Does My Elbow Ache in the Morning?

Why Does My Elbow Ache in the Morning?

You know the pang of pain when you “hit your funny bone”  against a hard surface. The pain comes and goes, and within a matter of moments, you’ve forgotten the whole thing. 

But, when you wake up morning after morning with throbbing, radiating elbow pain, it’s hard to move on. 

 Waking up refreshed is challenging enough without the threat of elbow pain in the morning  — but why is it even happening, and more importantly, what can you do to stop it?  

At Somers Orthopaedic Surgery, our team of experts handles it all, from elbow pain that flares up during activity to symptoms that last all day, and we can help you get to the bottom of your achy elbow in the morning. 

Here’s an in-depth look at what causes elbow pain in the morning and what you can do about it. 

Why you wake up with elbow pain

It’s likely that you hardly think about your elbow until it starts to bother you. Unfortunately, waking up with a stiff, achy elbow can make it difficult to get ready for your day, let alone get through your to-do list.   

 Not all elbow pain is the same, and we need to understand exactly what’s going on before we can take steps to help you get relief. The following are some of the most common culprits of elbow pain. 

Soft tissue injuries 

Your elbow may feel hard and pointy, but below the surface, you see it's held together by a network of soft tissues called tendons and ligaments. These soft tissues are incredibly durable and flexible, but they have their limits.   

Tendonitis, tennis elbow (lateral epicondylitis), and golfer's elbow (medial epicondylitis) are common overuse injuries that attack the soft tissues in your elbow. They stem from overuse injuries that trigger inflammation and cause you pain. 

These soft tissue injuries can worsen overnight if you sleep with your arm bent awkwardly. 


Arthritis is another condition that wreaks havoc on your elbow. The most common type of arthritis, called osteoarthritis, develops as the cartilage in your joint wears down, leaving your upper arm bone and your lower arm bones to rub against each other painfully. 


Arthritis is famous for revving up during your first few moments in the morning and then tempering slightly as you get moving.   

Nerve entrapment

Inflammation in your elbow from arthritis or an injury is painful enough on its own, but it could have a snowball effect on your nerves. There are many important nerves running through your elbow, such as your ulnar nerve. If swelling and inflammation press on those nerves, you could find yourself in quite a bit of pain.   

Entrapped nerves can also cause you to wake up with an achy elbow, especially if you slept with your arm bent. 

A note on severe pain

If your elbow starts hurting suddenly and the pain is severe, you may have sustained an acute injury, like a fracture, dislocation, or tear. These injuries usually don’t get better with time and need prompt treatment. Never ignore a sudden onset of intense pain. 

Your next steps

We base your treatment plan on the source of your pain, and because elbow pain is complicated, we begin with a comprehensive physical evaluation. During that time, we discuss your medical history, current symptoms, what (if anything) makes your pain better, and when your pain started.   


From there, we may take images of your elbow to check for tears, inflammation, and other problems. 

Once we know what’s behind your elbow pain, we make treatment recommendations. 

Chronic conditions like arthritis respond well to activity modification, rest, hot and cold therapy, and physical therapy. If conservative methods fail, we turn to more advanced approaches, such as joint steroid injections, regenerative medicine therapies (PRP injections and stem cell injections), and extracorporeal shockwave treatment (ESWT).

 We recommend surgery only in the most severe cases of torn ligaments and treatment-resistant injuries.

Ready to wake up without elbow pain? We want to help. Call or click to schedule an appointment with one of our orthopaedic experts today. 

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