Houston Methodist. Leading Medicine

Elbow FAQ

Question:

I went to see the doctor for an elbow problem and got a neck X-ray instead. Was the X-ray a mistake? Should I pay for it? What's the thinking behind this?

Answer:

Elbow pain can be coming from a local problem in or around the joint. But elbow pain and other symptoms such as numbness or tingling in the forearm and hand can also come from a neck problem. The nerves to the arms and hands leave the spinal cord and travel down the extremity.

Bone spurs, arthritis, or cervical spine degeneration can put pressure on the spinal nerves in the neck area. The symptoms can be the same whether the problem starts in the neck, elbow, or forearm.

Taking a neck X-ray can help rule out the neck as part of the problem. No one wants to have surgery on the elbow only to find out the problem was coming from someplace else. A thorough exam for some elbow problems includes checking for the source of the problem above and below the elbow. This means the doctor looks at the neck and shoulder as well as the wrist and hand before assuming the problem comes directly from the elbow.

Brian T. Fitzgerald, MD, et al. Functional Outcomes in Young, Active Duty, Military Personnel after Submuscular Ulnar Nerve Transposition. In The Journal of Hand Surgery. July 2004. Vol. 29A. No. 4. Pp. 619-624.

*Disclaimer:* The information contained herein is compiled from a variety of sources. It may not be complete or timely. It does not cover all diseases, physical conditions, ailments or treatments. The information should NOT be used in place of visit with your healthcare provider, nor should you disregard the advice of your health care provider because of any information you read in this topic.
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