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Elbow Pain and MS: Causes and Tips for Managing

Posted on April 04, 2022
Medically reviewed by
Evelyn O. Berman, M.D.
Article written by
Sarah Winfrey

Multiple sclerosis, or MS, can have many symptoms. One symptom reported by MyMSTeam members is elbow pain. From tendonitis to injuries from falls, nerve pain, bruises, and more, elbow pain is something that many people diagnosed with MS deal with at one point or another.

Chronic pain in the elbow can interfere with everyday tasks and even a person’s quality of life. Here’s what you need to know if you’re experiencing elbow pain while living with MS, including what can cause it and how you can manage it.

What Does Elbow Pain With MS Feel Like?

People with MS experience many different types of elbow pain. Some feel it only at certain times of the day. One member wrote, “I’m having a lot of pain in my right shoulder and elbow, mainly at night.” Others feel it all the time, and it persists. “I’ve had pain in my elbow for months now,” explained one member. “It goes down to my fingers.”

Still others find that their elbow pain occurs with other symptoms of MS. As one member asked, “Does anyone get shoulder pain, elbow tendon pain, and weak arm strength?” Another wrote, “I’m having elbow and knee joint pain in addition to sternum pain. When I pick up anything, I feel it in my elbows and sternum.”

For some, finding the source of their elbow pain can be a challenge. “I am trying to figure out if muscle pain (similar to tennis elbow) is a byproduct of MS, or if it is the sign of a flare-up,” one member shared. “The pain is not great during the day, but gets worse closer to bedtime. When I wake up, it’s much better, so I am not sure if it is because I am fatigued, from something I did outside of MS, or related to MS in general.”

What Causes Elbow Pain With MS?

There are several possible causes of elbow pain associated with MS. The best way to determine what is causing your pain is to talk to your health care provider. They can do a physical exam and — taking your MS into account — arrive at an explanation for your elbow pain. It’s especially important to see a doctor if your pain is worsening or not getting better over a long period.

Overuse and Injury

Some people with MS will experience elbow pain due to overuse or injury. This may be connected to a specific sport or activity, or it may seem to happen randomly.

Sometimes, elbow pain will be worse or more frequent in those with MS. This is because MS can lead to muscle stiffness, coordination issues, muscle spasms, or muscle weakness. You may also use your elbow awkwardly to compensate for mobility or functional problems caused by MS, resulting in muscle overuse.

Falls

People with MS may experience more falls due to muscle weakness and spasms. Elbow injuries can result from falls.

Several members have experienced this. One explained, “I fell face-first on a concrete floor. I hurt my elbow and back.” Another shared, “Balance issues got the best of me while trying to get out of the bathtub. I slipped and broke my elbow.”

Nerve Pain

MS can cause neuropathic (or nerve-related) pain. This is the result of the immune system attacking and damaging the myelin sheath around nerves, forming lesions. Nerve pain can feel like burning or tingling. It may also seem to travel from the elbow to other locations.

More than 23,000 members of MyMSTeam report pain as a symptom of their MS. One member shared the realization that their elbow pain was related to their condition: “I found out my elbow pain is from my MS. Now my left elbow hurts, and it’s nothing unusual.”

Managing Elbow Pain With MS

There are many treatment options and interventions for elbow pain related to MS. Your doctor or neurologist can help you determine which options might be best for you based on the cause of your pain and its severity.

Treat Aches and Injuries

If you are experiencing elbow pain due to an injury or from normal aches and pains, treat these conditions to improve your pain. Options may include over-the-counter pain relievers or topical (applied to the skin) pain relief creams.

Topical anti-inflammatories can help reduce pain to a manageable level. One member says, “I rub arnica cream on my elbow.”

If you are diagnosed with tendonitis, tennis elbow, golfer’s elbow, or a related condition, follow through on treating it to reduce your elbow pain. Physical therapy or over-the-counter pain relievers may be recommended.

Use a Brace

Some MyMSTeam members use elbow braces. These supportive devices can help stabilize the elbow joint while it heals. They are often used as part of a treatment plan for the aches and injuries mentioned above.

“For the last two months, my elbows have been giving me so much trouble,” reported one member. “My doctor tells me to get an elbow brace.”

If you are struggling with elbow pain due to muscle weakness or other MS-related problems, a brace could also help. It can keep your elbow in place even if your muscles have problems holding it there effectively.

Try Physical Therapy or Occupational Therapy

Physical therapists can help treat some types of elbow pain, whether it is due to an injury or muscle problems related to MS. They can evaluate the way you move and how well your muscles work, then devise a physical activity plan. Physical therapy can help you learn how to move more effectively so you can stop compensating in ways that hurt you and gain or maintain muscle strength.

If you need to make accommodations in your daily life to avoid elbow pain, you may also work with an occupational therapist. They can help you learn new ways to move and do normal tasks that will not result in injury or discomfort.

Try Pain Management Medications

Many medications are available to help with MS pain management, including elbow pain. The right medication for you will depend on the cause of your pain, its severity, and your doctor’s medical advice.

Possibilities include:

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for muscle pain and inflammation, such as ibuprofen
  • Antiepileptics for nerve pain, like gabapentin
  • Muscle relaxants for pain caused by cramps and spasms
  • Cannabinoid preparations, which may be topical or oral

Certain antidepressants may be effective in treating neuropathic pain. If pain is severe, doctors may prescribe opioids in some cases.

It might take some time to find the right treatment options for your elbow pain. You and your health care team can work together to find a medication that helps you feel better with as few side effects as possible.

Find Your Team

On MyMSTeam, the social support network for people living with multiple sclerosis and their loved ones, more than 184,000 members come together to ask questions, share their experiences with multiple sclerosis, and learn what has worked for others.

Have you experienced elbow pain with MS? How have you managed this symptom? Share your story or advice in the comments below or by posting on MyMSTeam.

All updates must be accompanied by text or a picture.
Evelyn O. Berman, M.D. is a neurology and pediatric specialist and treats disorders of the brain in children. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about her here.
Sarah Winfrey is a writer at MyHealthTeam. Learn more about her here.

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