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How are elbow problems diagnosed?

Most elbow problems can be diagnosed and treated after a simple examination, and you probably won’t need any special tests. Your doctor may occasionally suggest you have an x-ray, which can show abnormal bone formation and areas where the joint surfaces have worn away. Sometimes they can show small pieces of loose bone in your joint. Very rarely an ultrasound scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan may be needed to rule out or confirm a diagnosis.

If your doctor thinks you have cubital tunnel syndrome (where your ulnar nerve is trapped), they’ll do a nerve conduction test. This can help confirm the diagnosis or show how severe the compression is. Small electrodes are placed on your skin to stimulate the ulnar nerve. They can measure how fast the nerve impulse moves, and the length of delay will give an idea of how badly the nerve is being squeezed.

Sometimes elbow pain can carry on for longer than expected, or you may have other symptoms besides pain and stiffness. In this case it’s best to speak to your doctor. They may suggest you have an x-ray or other tests to check for the cause of your symptoms and, depending on the problem, may recommend treatments such as physiotherapy or steroid injections.


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