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"My elbow is stiff and painful at night, what could it be?"

ZocdocAnswersMy elbow is stiff and painful at night, what could it be?


Hi, most nights I wake up and find my left elbow really stiff and painful to move,, i do have to move my arm back and forth for a while to loosen it up and ease the pain. my elbow isnt painful to touch at all and the pain feels like its inside the core of the joint. On a few occasions while working the same elbow will catch a little like it wants to pop, my knees do this all the time but theres no pain when they pop, but my elbow cant pop and the pain does be pritty bad. This doesnt happen much but the night pain is starting to become a concern. Do you have any idea what it could be?


I'm sorry to hear about your elbow pain and I recommend you consult your physician. Assuming that you didn't injure your elbow previously, your symptoms sound consistent with either a loose body or elbow arthritis. We'll start with the former, but honestly loose bodies often occur in the setting of arthritis, so the two really aren't mutually exclusive. A loose body is essentially a loose piece of bone or cartilage that gets dislodged and stuck in the joint. The loose body can get stuck in the joint like a pebble in a shoe, and depending on its location, this entrapment and impingement can cause pain and mechanical symptoms like popping, clicking, or locking. Alternatively, arthritis can have very similar symptoms because of the bone spurs and loss of joint space. In fact, night time stiffness and pain can be characteristic of arthritis. The elbow joint becomes mechanically stiff due to bone spurs and the fact that you don't move your elbow much while sleeping, but grinding of bone against bone when you move it inadvertently can awaken you due to pain. The fact that you have somewhat similar symptoms in your knee makes it more likely that your elbow pain is from arthritis, since arthritis seldom only affects one joint. Again, it is important to keep in mind loose bodies often occur in the setting of arthritis so your symptoms may represent both of these things. As always, you should always consult your physician regarding your symptoms to undergo the appropriate evaluation and treatment.

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