An Overview of Tennis Elbow (Lateral Epicondylitis)
The term lateral epicondylitis, often referred to as “tennis elbow,” is a condition marked by small tears in the tendons that surround the elbow area, with subsequent tendinosis and inflammation. These tears occur on the outside of the elbow and occur due to repeated micro-trauma from repeated overuse. Athletes who play tennis are at higher risk for developing lateral epicondylitis. Additionally, workers who frequently grip, lift, and use heavy tools are prone to the condition. The pain and tenderness associated with tennis elbow will occur on the outside of the elbow and will intensify when lifting, extending or making a fist.
Lateral epicondylitis is the most common cause of elbow symptoms in those who complain of elbow pain. For individuals at risk of developing lateral epicondylitis (e.g. tennis players), maintaining proper technique is one of the most important things to prevent symptoms from developing.
The elbow joint is made up of three bones: humerus (upper arm bone), radius (forearm bone on thumb side), and ulna (forearm bone on pinky finger side). The bony bumps at the bottom of the upper arm bone are called epicondyles. Specifically, the bump on the outside of the bone is called the lateral epicondyle, while the bump on the outside of the bone is called the lateral epicondyle. Ligaments, muscles, and tendons hold the elbow joint together. Lateral epicondylitis involves the inflammation of tendons of the forearm, specifically the tendons that help extend your wrist.
Symptoms of Lateral Epicondylitis
Tennis elbow can create a great deal of pain, usually localized to the outside of the elbow, and generally worse with extension, or cocking, of the wrist. Lifting objects, gripping and turning the arm may be difficult as well, due to pain. Pain may radiate up and down the arm in some patients, and grip strength may also be decreased.
Diagnosis of Lateral Epicondylitis
Dr. Millett will perform a comprehensive history and physical exam of the elbow. He will consider how your symptoms developed, prior injuries, risk factors, and involvement in recreational sports. He will also use elbow tests to assess range of motion and strength. Imaging such as X-ray, MRI, or EMG (to rule out nerve compression) may also be used.
Treatment for Tennis Elbow
Over 80% will have success with non-surgical treatment. As with many sports-related injuries, RICE is typically the first form of treatment. RICE stands for rest, ice, compression and elevation. If the injury is related to overuse of the wrist, refraining from the aggravating activity for a duration of time will often heal the injury. Over the counter medicines, such as ibuprofen or NSAIDS, may play a role in controlling pain and decreasing inflammation. Physical therapy can also help strengthen the muscles around the elbow and decrease pain. In some cases, a splint or brace will be recommended.
If left untreated, tennis elbow may require surgical intervention. Surgery to repair elbow epicondylitis is offered by Dr. Millett. The procedure is a minimally invasive, out-patient surgery that can have excellent results in patients who have failed a trial of non-surgical management.
For more details on tennis elbow, or to discuss treatment options for lateral epicondylitis, please contact the practice of Dr. Peter Millett.