Are you wondering, “Why are my elbows red?” Don’t fret. It is not necessarily a health concern. What is more, most cases of red elbows can be effectively treated and managed at home. Continue reading to find out not only the causes of elbow rash but also various home remedies and medical treatment options available to get rid of the problem.
Red Elbows Meaning
According to the Health Grades website, a red elbow either means a local irritation or inflammation in the area around the affected elbow or a systemic – one that involves the whole body – condition.
The symptoms will help to give you an idea of the actual problem. If not sure, it is advisable to talk to a doctor or your healthcare provider to ascertain the actual problem.
Red Elbows Causes
Anyone can experience red elbows if their elbow skin, bones, muscles, tendons, or cartilage sustain injury, get exposed to allergens and irritants, or suffer from conditions that cause inflammation. Depending on the underlying causes, elbow redness may be accompanied by other symptoms such as pain, swelling, dryness, numbness, tenderness, and difficulty moving the elbow joint. The skin in the affected area may also appear crusty, peel, or even burn.
Below are some of the most common causes of red elbows:
1. Elbow Bursitis
Elbow bursitis is often characterized by red, swollen elbows. Also referred to as olecranon bursitis, student’s elbows, or miner’s elbows, elbow bursitis refers to inflammation and swelling of the thin, fluid-filled, slippery sac located between the boney tips of the bone and the soft tissues called olecranon bursa (plural bursae). This cushion the two while facilitating free movement between them by acting as a lubricant.
Bursitis occur when the membrane covering the outer surface of the bursa, called synovium, gets irritated and inflamed (swelling) leading to accumulation of fluids in the affected bursa.
According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, elbow bursitis – and thus red elbows – may be caused by one of the following factors:
- Trauma: Injury due to factors such as a hard blow or repetitive use of the elbows, e.g. when playing tennis, can cause elbow bursitis.
- Excessive pressure from leaning on the elbows: Working with the tip of your elbows placed against a hard surface e.g. tabletop, over a long period of time can also cause swelling and redness of the elbow.
- Infection: Elbow bursitis and the associated red rash, pain and swelling may also be caused by infection in the elbow areas. This can occur when abrasions, insect bite, etc. create an entry point for bacteria leading to an infection of the bursa sac. According to MedicineNet, elbow joint infection is rare but it most often affect people with suppressed immune systems (e.g. HIV/AIDS patients), diabetics, and people on cortisone medications.
- Systemic medical conditions: Elbow redness may also be a symptom of medical conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, gout, etc. according to the WebMD, red elbow and knees may also be symptoms of lupus Other parts commonly affected include ankles and wrists.
2. Allergic Reaction
Allergic reactions to foods (e.g. peanuts, avocadoes, strawberries, shellfish etc.) and certain medications can also manifest in red elbows. The condition may vary from mild reaction to serious, life-threatening reactions. It is paramount that you see a doctor immediately if the redness in the elbows is accompanied by symptoms such as vomiting, swelling on the face, difficulty breathing, pale skin, and fainting. A purple, rather than red, rash on the skin is also a cause for concern.
3. Skin Conditions
Elbow redness may also be caused by skin conditions such as psoriasis, eczema, and impetigo. The scalp, elbows, knees are common trouble spot for psoriasis whereby it causes “plaques of red, raised, scaly skin” that are sometimes itchy as the eMedicineHealth website says.
4. Contact Dermatitis
Red patches on the elbows may also indicate irritation and inflammation resulting from exposure to substances that cause adverse reactions such as soaps, detergents (e.g. when you wear a piece of clothing that has been washed with a certain detergent), skin care products, metals, etc. Contact with poison ivy and poison oak and
5. Insect Bites
Bites by mosquitoes, mites, etc. can also cause red elbows as well as itching and swelling (to form small bumps). According to HealthGrades, tick bites can also cause Lyme disease and make the skin to develop circular patches with a bull’s eye pattern, which later turn into a red rash.
Red Elbows Treatment
If your elbows have just turned red but you don’t think there is a serious thing going on, you can try using home remedies while avoiding the potentially aggravating factors such as tennis, leaning on the table while working on a computer or reading, etc. Below are some of the best red elbows treatment options:
1. Cold Compress
Holding an ice pack over the affected elbow is usually helpful for most non-septic cases of elbow redness. It is however not advisable to place ice directly on the skin. Instead, wrap it (or frozen peas) in a small clean towel and then press it gently over the affected elbow for 15-20 minutes. Repeat this every couple hours over the first 2 days to see if the symptoms go away. If not, seek medical attention.
2. Take Over-the-counter Painkillers
According to the NHS Choices, over-the-counter pain and anti-inflammatory medications such as paracetamol, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin etc.), and acetaminophen can help to reduce the pain and swelling associated with red elbows.
3. Elevate the Elbows
To help with circulation, reduce movement of the affected arm and keep it in a raised position; a cushion will come in handy for this. This helps to relive pain and swelling and encourage faster healing of the elbow rash.
4. Apply Moisturizer
Dry, red elbows may benefit from applying petroleum jelly a good moisturizing lotion frequently; aim for at least twice daily. A moisturizer with lactic acid is especially a great choice since this helps to exfoliate dead skin cells.
5. Hydrocortisone Cream
For dry, red elbow patches due to eczema or psoriasis, a hydrocortisone is a great bet. Use an over the counter cream for several days to see if the symptoms improve. As you do so, you will also want to steer clear of harsh soaps and detergents as these can further aggravate the symptoms.
6. Avoid Scratching the Elbows
While this is not a treatment per se, it is just as important a factor to consider when treating red elbows. Scratching the affected areas of the skin can cause skin breakage, resulting in infection or even scarring. Instead of scratching, try apply a moisturizer or an ice pack.
When to See a Doctor over Red Elbows
Extremely red elbows that don’t resolve to home treatments should be checked by a medical profession. This also applies if:
- The elbow redness is accompanied by pain that shoots with movement or exercise but calm down with rest. This may be a sign of a condition of the heart called Angina.
- You suspect a fracture in the arm.
- The elbows or arm get suddenly red, swollen, and warm to touch.
- You develop fever or chills.
- The affected joints becomes stiff.
- You get a purple rather than red rash.
- You experience breathing difficulty.
- You develop face swelling.
The medical professional will evaluate your symptoms and determine the right cause of action. The appropriate medical treatment for elbow redness will vary depending on the underlying cause and symptoms and may include:
- Physical therapy
- Prescription medications
- Aspiration of the excess synovial fluid with a needle
- Corticosteroid injection