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Causes of Painful, Dry Skin on the Elbows

author image Linda Ray
Linda Ray is an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years reporting experience. She's covered business for newspapers and magazines, including the "Greenville News," "Success Magazine" and "American City Business Journals." Ray holds a journalism degree and teaches writing, career development and an FDIC course called "Money Smart."
Causes of Painful, Dry Skin on the Elbows
Dry skin on the elbows is often painful. Photo Credit BananaStock/BananaStock/Getty Images

A dermatologist makes a determination on how to treat painful, dry skin based on the appearance of the skin and where the dry patch is located. Dry skin on your elbows may result from a variety of conditions, ranging from infections or boils to allergic reactions or dermatitis, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians. Treatment varies from topical creams to medication and techniques to address the underlying cause of your dry skin.


Dermatitis is a skin condition that causes redness, swelling and itching -- usually as a result of an allergy to certain fabrics or chemicals that touch your elbows. It causes your skin to break out in blisters and bumps that can be itchy and painful. When the outbreaks occur primarily on your elbows, you may have a case of dermatitis herpetiformis. This condition is a side effect of gluten sensitivity or a reaction to products containing wheat. Antibiotics help control the dryness and itching. Prevention is the most effective means of resisting the dermatitis outbreak. If you have dermatitis herpetiformis, you should not eat food products containing wheat.


Psoriasis is a skin condition that most often appears on your elbows and the knees. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, psoriasis presents as white bumps that are scaly and develop over a red patch of skin. An abundance of skin cells under the skin typically causes psoriasis outbreaks. Phototherapy that treats your dry elbows with light is a common treatment for psoriasis. Moisturizers can help relieve symptoms, and oral medicine may reduce itching.


Scleroderma is a chronic skin disease that often attacks the tips of your elbows, causing your skin to swell and become dry and painful. Elbows are tender to the touch when the condition flares up. Elbow pain due to scleroderma is caused by an overproduction of collagen and is a hereditary condition, according to MayoClinic.com. Immunosuppressive drugs may reduce symptoms, which often are more pronounced in cold weather conditions.


Skin conditions that include boils and infections of the elbows or other parts of your body may be the first indication that you have developed diabetes. According to the American Diabetes Association, bacterial and fungal infections that make skin dry and painful are common side effects of the disease. Inflamed elbows become red and hot. A biopsy of your skin allows doctors to determine the cause of the skin condition and provide the best type of treatment, which may include topical creams or antibiotics.

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