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How Do I Know if My Elbow Pain Is Serious?

Patients often come to me for an evaluation of their elbow pain, asking, “How bad is it, doc?”


The severity of the pain is subjective, as everyone has a unique pain threshold. The underlying cause of the elbow pain can be better understood through imaging studies and by assessing the level of pain or dysfunction the patient experiences.


Regardless of whether it’s an elbow, shoulder, or wrist issue, I usually ask two main questions to gauge the severity:


  1. Does the pain wake you up at night? This is a common concern as it hinders rest and recovery.
  2. Are you able to perform your regular activities, be it work-related, a hobby, or daily tasks?


If the pain is interrupting sleep and daily activities, I consider it severe. If not, it might be more of a minor inconvenience. In the latter case, we often manage the pain with conservative measures and some effort from the patient.