Lateral Epicondylitis

Prevent "tennis elbow" by doing exercises to strengthen the muscles in your forearm and by stretching and warming up before any activity that uses these muscles. That includes, but is not limited to tennis!

Lateral epicondylitis, commonly known as tennis elbow, is one of the most common elbow conditions causing pain and tenderness near the bony bump on the outer part of the elbow. The condition can be caused by a backhand swing in tennis, but is more commonly the result of other repetitive activities such as carpentry, painting, knitting or typing.

Tendons connect the muscles in your forearm to the bony bump on the outer side of your elbow called the lateral epicondyle, the end of the long arm bone or humerus. The muscles that attach here are used to extend the wrist. When you overuse these muscles, the tendons become irritated and may even tear slightly, which can cause scarring. One is most likely to develop lateral epicondylitis between the ages of 30 and 60.

You may first become aware of some pain and tenderness at the outer side of your elbow. The discomfort increases when you apply pressure to the area or use the forearm muscles to grasp a heavy object, shake hands, paint or type. This tenderness may progress to a constant pain and swelling that starts at the outside edge of your elbow and moves into the forearm.

Your doctor will examine your elbow and arm and discuss symptoms with you. He or she will also want to know about your involvement in any repetitive recreational activities. X-rays may be ordered to determine if there are any other problems with the elbow joint.

The first step in reducing your discomfort is to stop any activity that causes pain. Your doctor may also recommend:

  • Ice packs applied for approximately 20 minutes, three to four times a day to help reduce inflammation and pain
  • Anti-inflammatory medications to reduce swelling and ease pain
  • Splints or elbow straps to ease tension at the bony attachment by restricting the use of muscles and tendons
  • Cortisone injections to reduce inflammation and pain
  • Exercises to strengthen the muscles in the forearm.

If the pain is severe, your doctor may recommend a simple surgical procedure. A small incision is made on the outside of the elbow allowing scar tissue and bone spurs to be removed, and tendons to be released. This is usually completed in an outpatient facility.

Prevent recurrences of this painful condition by:

  • Following an exercise or weight training program to strengthen the muscles in your forearm
  • Stretching and warming up before activities that cause pain
  • Using ice packs on the elbow after activities that require heavy use of the forearm muscles
  • Maintaining proper posture during exercise to reduce the strain on the elbow and arm muscles.