Pain and Popping in the Elbow: Causes and Treatment

Pain and popping in the elbow often occur due to overuse. Repetitive movements from work, playing sports, and engaging in hobbies can damage the elbow joint.

Elbow pain may also be caused by arthritis or several other conditions that can cause the elbow joint to deteriorate. Often inflammation is involved.

We review some of the common causes of these symptoms and what you can do to treat what is causing your elbow pain.

Common Causes of Elbow Pain and Popping   

Often, injuries can cause pain and popping in the elbow and can include stress fractures, a broken arm, sprains, strains, and even throwing injuries.

However, many people experiencing popping elbows with accompanying pain are dealing with chronic conditions that can cause these symptoms.

Let’s review some of the most common causes of these symptoms and what you can do to treat them.  


Bursitis is a painful condition affecting the bursae that cushions bones, tendons, and muscles. Repetitive motions or positions are the leading cause of bursitis.


  • Achy and stiff elbow joints
  • Swelling and redness
  • Pain when moving the joint or immobility

Treatment Options

  • Lifting properly
  • Using kneeling pads
  • Exercising
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Stretching and warming up before physical activity


Tendinitis is inflammation of tendons, the thick fibrous cords that attach muscle to bone. Repetitive movements are the primary cause of tendinitis due to the stress on the tendons.


  • Pain or dull ache
  • Mild swelling
  • Tenderness

Treatment Options

  • Medications, including pain relievers, steroids, and platelet-rich plasma
  • Physical therapy
  • Surgery or dry needling

Rheumatoid Arthritis  

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic inflammatory autoimmune disorder that often affects more than just joints. If RA is the cause of the pain and popping in your elbow, that means that the lining of your joints is deteriorating, and it can lead to deformities and bone erosion.


  • Tender and swollen elbow joints
  • Joint stiffness, especially after inactivity or in the mornings
  • Fever or warmth in the joint
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite

Treatment Options

  • Medications, including anti-inflammatory medications and immune system suppressants
  • Lifestyle changes, including exercise, a healthy diet, reducing or eliminating alcohol and tobacco consumption, and achieving a healthy weight  
  • Physical therapy to optimize mobility


Osteoarthritis in the elbow occurs when the joint's cartilage slowly deteriorates. When the cartilage deteriorates, the joint loses the firm, slippery tissue that facilitates joint motion. If the cartilage wears down entirely, you will experience pain and popping in the elbow due to the bone rubbing against bone.


  • Joint pain and tenderness
  • Swelling
  • Stiffness
  • Loss of flexibility
  • Bone spurs
  • Grating sensation

Treatment Options

  • Medications, including non-opioid pain medications to decrease inflammation and reduce pain
  • Surgery to realign bones (reserved for severe cases)
  • Occupational and physical therapy to reduce joint stress

Lateral Epicondylitis

Also known as tennis elbow, lateral epicondylitis is a painful condition affecting the tendons due to overuse. The cause is the repeated contractions of the forearm muscles used to raise or straighten a patient's hands or wrists.


  • Difficulty moving the joint 
  • Loss of grip
  • Pain and swelling

Treatment Options

  • Pain medications, including NSAIDs
  • Physical therapy
  • Surgeries, including ultrasonic tenotomy
  • Nutrition plans and supplements

Treating Your Popping Elbow

Before you can treat your popping elbow and the pain associated with it, you must first get an official diagnosis from a Rheumatologist.

At Southwest Florida Rheumatology, our experienced team will work with you to put together a customized treatment plan to treat your condition and manage its specific symptoms.

We have three locations, one in Riverview, Sun City, and Wesley Chapel to help our patients throughout Southwest Florida manage their arthritis. Don’t suffer needlessly.

Call today to schedule an appointment with one of our experienced rheumatologists and get relief from your chronic arthritis pain.


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