Tennis Elbow

Tennis elbow, medical known as lateral epicondylitis, is a rather common condition that affects the tendons in the bony prominence on the outside of the elbow, known as the lateral epicondyle. The tendons allow the wrist and fingers to extend. The most common tendon that is involved is the tendon to the extensor carpi radialis brevis (ECRB). Overuse of this area causes damage to the tendon and results in pain with wrist movement.

Tennis elbow is a degeneration of the tendon that attaches the wrist extensor muscles to the elbow. A tendon attaches a muscle to bone. In this case, the ECRB is the muscle, and it attaches to the lateral epicondyle. In cases of overuse, the tendon can degenerate, which cause pain in the area. It is particularly painful in patients who must do repeated wrist extension activities.

Symptoms include:

  • Recurring pain on the outside of the upper forearm just below the bend of the elbow; occasionally, pain radiates down the arm toward the wrist
  • Pain caused by lifting or bending the arm or grasping even light objects such as a coffee cup
  • Difficulty extending the full forearm fully because of inflamed muscles, tendons and ligaments
  • Pain that typically lasts for six to 12 weeks; the discomfort can continue for as little as three weeks or as long as several years

Diagnosing tennis elbow can usually be done through physical examination alone. X-rays of the elbow may be required if symptoms suggest the possibility of a problem with the joint.

If rest, anti-inflammatory medications, and a stretching routine fail to cure tennis elbow, surgery may be considered although this form of treatment is rare (fewer than 3 percent of patients). One procedure is for the tendon to be cut loose from the epicondyle, the rounded bump at the end of the bone, which eliminates stress on the tendon but renders the muscle useless. Another surgical technique involves removing roughened or granulated tissue in the tendon and repairing tears.

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Reviewed by health care specialists at UCSF Medical Center.

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