Updated: Mar 19, 2021
A sedentary lifestyle is not usually associated, by most people, with joint and muscle pain or injury. People that spend a lot of time working at a computer though, and for many this may well be a new thing, is a sedentary activity and it can and often will affect joints such as the elbow.
Sometimes confused with elbow bursitis, computer elbow is caused by almost the opposite way that elbow bursitis is. Bursitis happens when the fluid-filled sac, or bursa, at the tip of the elbow becomes inflamed. The bursa is most often inflamed through excessive overuse of the elbow.
Computer elbow, on the other hand, is caused by a more sedentary lifestyle. It became known as computer elbow because the most common cause was an overuse of computers – either typing for extended periods or of repetitive mouse use.
Elbow pain for computer users is typically a sign of computer-related RSI from holding the arm in a fixed position for extended periods. Normally this happens without us being aware, and we don’t realise there is an issue until we stand or move the arm to a totally new position and we feel the pain associated with the condition.
What can be done for ‘computer elbow’?
When seeking medical advice, you will almost certainly be told to rest the associated arm – so also resting the affected elbow. Depending on the seriousness of your condition, for example, if it has been ongoing for some time and left ignored, then your doctor will possibly recommend a steroid injection.
Failing that, physiotherapy will possibly be recommended. You can perform this yourself, but it is recommended that you do so with, or after, professional advice and instruction from a physical therapist.
If you don’t fix the root cause you won’t get rid of the issue
Since there are strong links between computer elbow and computer use (hence the name) you must focus on posture and/or workstation issues.
Both muscles and tendons get damaged when they are either held in a tense position for too long or they are overstretched. Computer users will often find that their mouse or keyboard use creates this scenario.
We often will not even realize the time pass as we are too focused on what we are doing at the time. And that is the major issue because we don't appreciate just how long our arm has been tensed or held in an awkward position for.
The quick solution is to find a more relaxed arm/wrist position which is not usually possible from a conventional computer mouse or keyboard. More ergonomic peripherals are available, and the costs are lower than you probably think and are certainly less painful than computer elbow.
In the meantime, some things can be done right away. For instance, if your keyboard has little plastic rests at the back to raise the far edge of the keyboard, don't use them – a raised keyboard puts the wrists at an unnatural angle, and this will affect the elbow too by straining the connected muscles and tendons.
Furniture at an appropriate height will also help. If your pain doesn’t seem to be easing, feel free to contact us.