Lateral Epicondylitis – A Common Elbow Condition Caused by More Than Tennis

While you may not be familiar with the term lateral epicondylitis, you’ve likely heard of “tennis elbow” to describe a painful condition that affects the elbow, wrist, hand and lower arm. Unfortunately, avoiding a tennis match won’t keep you safe from developing this condition. Any activities that repetitively use the wrist extensor muscles may cause you to experience lateral epicondylitis. We sat down with Dr. Jordan McIntyre, chiropractor at Altru, to discuss this condition, its symptoms, causes and treatment options.

Q: What is Lateral Epicondylitis?
It is a painful condition involving the tendons that attach to the bone on the outside (lateral) part of the elbow. It is classified as an over-use injury that occurs when the attachment sites of the wrist extensors of the tendon become irritated and inflamed.

Q. Why is it commonly known as tennis elbow?
Tennis is a repetitive activity in which the wrist extensor muscles are used over and over. Due to this movement, elbow pain is common, and lateral epicondylitis is often seen in tennis players. This dates back to when British surgeon Henry Morris published an article in The Lancet describing “lawn tennis arm” in 1883. The popular term “tennis elbow” first appeared the same year in a paper by H. P. Major, described as “lawn-tennis elbow.” 

Q. Are there any other activities that are known to cause it?
Lateral epicondylitis can be caused by any repetitive activity in which the extensors muscles are being used. Examples include:

  • Hammering
  • Typing
  • Painting
  • Knitting
  • Playing video games
  • And more.

Q. Who is at risk for developing this condition?
Those whose professions or hobbies include repetitive motion with their arm, wrist and hands. We often see it in painters, laborers, office personnel, and, of course, tennis players.

Q. What are some of the symptoms to look out for?
The symptoms of tennis elbow include pain and tenderness in the bony knob on the outside of your elbow. This knob is where the injured tendons connect to the bone. The pain may also radiate into the upper or lower arm. Although the damage is in the elbow, you’re likely to experience pain when doing things with your hands.

Q. Can you prevent it? If so, how?
Some tips for preventing developing tennis elbow include:

  • When starting a new activity, gradually increase the amount of time that you are doing it.
  • Take frequent breaks.
  • Strengthen your wrist and arm muscles.
  • When pain begins, decrease the amount of activity you are doing with your hands.
  • Self-massage of the wrist and forearm muscles.

Q. Are there at-home treatment options that can be effective?
Yes, strengthening the wrist muscle along with self-massage can be effective, especially when you’re beginning a new activity. Also, using a wrist strap can help to decrease the pressure on the muscle insertion, allowing the injured area to heal.

Q. What are treatment options that are conservative/non-invasive?
We offer various treatment options that aim to decrease muscle tension in the forearm musculature and increase blood flow to the irritated area. These include the Graston® Method, massage and strengthening exercises for our patients. The treatment I most often recommend is dry needling. This treatment helps by releasing the muscles in the forearm to decrease tension on the insertion point, allowing the area to heal without having constant tightness and pulling on the affected area. It also helps to bring in blood and healing cells to the area that is inflamed to allow the body to heal.

Q. If those don’t work, what’s a next step for someone to treat it?
If these treatment options are not effective for the patients’ level of injury, the next step would be a referral to a provider at Altru Advanced Orthopedics. They may recommend cortisone injections or surgery on the area.

If you’re experiencing elbow pain, give our chiropractic team at Altru Advanced Orthopedics a call at 701.732.7620. They can work with you on an individualized treatment plan to help get you back to activity, pain-free.

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