Tennis elbow, medically known as lateral epicondylitis, is a painful condition of the lateral or outside aspect of the elbow. Many sports including tennis or other racquet sports can cause this condition. Often, the cause is overuse of the elbow muscles in lifting activities and occasionally direct trauma to the bony prominence precipitates the condition.
Tennis elbow is an inflammation or tendinopathy of the attachments of forearm muscles to the elbow. The tendon attachments become damaged from overuse — repeating the same motions again and again. This leads to pain and tenderness on the lateral or outside of the elbow. Often, grip strength is diminished.
Your elbow joint is a joint comprised of three bones. The proximal bone of the joint is your humerus. It articulates or forms the joint with two bones of your forearm the radius and ulna. There are bony bumps at the end of the humerus called epicondyles. The bony bump on the outside (lateral side) of the elbow is your lateral epicondyle. The bony bump on the inside (medial side) is your medial epicondyle.
Tennis elbow involves the muscles and tendons of your forearm. These are the forearm muscles that straighten or extend your wrist and fingers. Your forearm tendons, the extensors, attach the muscles to bone. They attach on the lateral epicondyle. The tendon usually involved in tennis elbow is called the Extensor Carpi Radialis Brevis (ECRB).
There are many treatment options for tennis elbow. Overall, we expect 85% of initial cases of tennis elbow to resolve with conservative care. A treatment program of activity modification, stretching and strengthening exercises, and bracing will initially be used. If symptoms are severe or persistent a corticosteroid injection can be tried. Finally, if the condition will not resolve a simple outpatient surgery involving release and repair of the damaged tendon attachment to the elbow will be effective in most patients to provide relief.