by Laurie LaRusso, MS, ELS
Lateral epicondylitis is pain at the elbow. The pain occurs over the bone on the outside of the elbow. There are several muscles and tendons that attach on this area of the bone.
This condition is often called tennis elbow, but it is not restricted to people who play tennis. It can also occur in people with jobs that require repetitive motions such as roofers and carpenters.
Lateral epicondylitis is caused by damage to a tendon.
Tendons connects muscles to bone. Repetitive or stressful movements of the muscles causes strain and pain at the tendon. The tendons associated with lateral epicondylitis are connected to forearm muscles. These muscles are active when you grip something, such as a tennis racquet. Actions that can cause irritation to the tendons of the elbow include:
Factors that increase your risk of lateral epicondylitis include:
Lateral epicondylitis may develop slowly over time. It may not be associated with a sudden injury. Symptoms include:
Pain may be most noticeable when doing activities like:
You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. You may also be asked about your recent physical activity.
The doctor will examine your elbow for:
X-rays are not usually necessary. However, an x-ray may be needed if the doctor suspects other problems.
Activities that cause pain will need to be avoided. Sports and repetitive motions will need to be stopped until the pain is gone. Activities will need to be altered:
Regular ice application may help decrease some discomfort and swelling.
You may be referred to a physical therapist. You will learn exercises that may help reduce your symptoms and maintain strength.
Medications may be advised to reduce swelling and pain:
Certain injuries may require a brace. It is placed on your forearm. This brace limits the force of your forearm muscles on the tendon.
The doctor may inject cortisone into the tendon. This may help to reduce pain and inflammation in the short term. Unfortunately, the injection may not help in the long run.
Returning to Physical Activity
To help reduce your chance of lateral epicondylitis:
Ortho Info— American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
Sports Med—American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine
Canadian Association of General Surgeons
Canadian Orthopaedic Foundation
Chumbley EM, O'Connor FG. Evaluation of overuse elbow injuries. Am Fam Physician. 2000;61(3):691-700.
Nirschl RP, Kraushaar BS. Keeping tennis elbow at arm's length. Phys Sportsmed. 1996.
Nirschl RP, Kraushaur BS. Assessment and treatment guidelines for elbow injuries. Phys Sportsmed. 1996;24.
Tennis elbow (lateral epicondylitis). Ortho Info—American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons website. Available at: https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/diseases--conditions/tennis-elbow-lateral-epicondylitis. Updated July 2015. Accessed November 15, 2017.
11/8/2006 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.dynamed... : Bisset L, Beller E, et al. Mobilisation with movement and exercise, corticosteroid injection, or wait and see for tennis elbow: Randomised trial. BMJ. 2006;333:939.
10/26/2010 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.dynamed.com : Massey T, Derry S, et al. Topical NSAIDs for acute pain in adults. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2010;(6):CD007402.
Last reviewed November 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Teresa Briedwell, PT, DPT, OCS, CSCS
Last Updated: 12/20/2014
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