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Lateral Epicondylitis Tennis Elbow

February 26, 2010


What is lateral epicondylitis (tennis elbow)?
How does it occur?
What are the symptoms?
How is it diagnosed?
How is it treated?
When can I return to my sport or activity?
How can I prevent tennis elbow?

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What is lateral epicondylitis (tennis elbow)?
Lateral epicondylitis is the name for a condition in which the bony bump at the outer side of the elbow is painful and tender. The elbow joint is made up of the bone in the upper arm (humerus) and one of the bones in the lower arm (ulna). The bony bumps at the bottom of the humerus are called epicondyles. The bump on the outer side of the elbow, to which certain forearm muscles are attached by the tendons is called the lateral epicondyle. Lateral epicondyle is also referred to as wrist extensor tendonitis.

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How does it occur?
Tennis elbow results from overusing the muscles in your forearm that straighten and raise your hand and wrist. When these muscles are overused, the tendons are repeatedly tugged at the point of attachment (the lateral epicondyle). As a result, the tendons become in inflamed. Repeated, tiny tears in the tendon tissue cause pain. Among the activities that can cause tennis elbow are tennis and other racquet sports, carpentry, machine work, typing, and knitting.

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What are the symptoms?
The symptoms of tennis elbow are:
– Pain or tenderness on the outer side of the elbow
– Pain when you straighten or raise tour wrist and hand
– Pain made worse by lifting a heavy object
– Pain when you make a fist, grip an object, shake hands, or turn door handles
– Pain that shoots from the elbow down into the forearm or up into the upper arm

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How is it diagnosed?
Your doctor will ask you about your daily and recreational activities. He or she will examine your elbow and arm and will have you do movements that may cause pain in the outer part of your elbow. Your doctor may order x-rays of the elbow.

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How is it treated?
Treatment includes the following:
– Put an ice pack on your elbow for 20 to 30 minutes every 3 to 4 hours for 2 to 3 days or until the pain goes away
– You can also do ice massage. Massage your elbow with ice by freezing water in a Styrofoam cup. Peel the top of the cup away to expose the ice and hold onto the bottom of the cup while you rub ice over your elbow for 5 to 10 minutes.
– Do the exercises recommended by your doctor
Your doctor may recommend that you:
– Taking anti-inflammatory medication, such as ibuprofen, for 4 to 6 weeks
– Wear a tennis elbow strap. This strap wraps around the forearm below the elbow, acting as a new attachment site for the forearm muscles and keeping them from pulling on the painful epicondyle.
While you are recovering from your injury you will need to avoid repetitive motion of the elbow and to change your sport or activity to one that does not make your condition worse. For example, you may need to run instead of play tennis. If you play tennis, your doctor may advise you to use a tennis racquet with a larger grip. He or she may suggest improvements in the way you hold or swing your racquet. If ice, rest, anti-inflammatory medication, and an elbow strap do not relieve your symptoms, you may need physical therapy. Also, your doctor may recommend an injection of a corticosteroid medication around the lateral epicondyle to reduce the inflammation. In severe cases, surgery may be recommended.
When can I return to my sport or activity?
The goal of rehabilitation it to return you to your sport or activity as soon as is safely possible. If your return too soon your may worsen your injury, which could lead to permanent damage. Everyone recovers from injury at a different rate. Return to your sport or activity will be determined by how soon your elbow recovers, not by how many days or weeks it has been since your injury occurred. In general, the longer you have symptoms before you start treatment, the longer it will take to get better. You may return to your sport or activity when you are able to forcefully grip your tennis racquet, bat, or golf club, or do activities such as working at a keyboard without pain in your elbow. In sports such as gymnastics, it is important that you are able to bear weight on your elbow painlessly. It is important that there is no swelling around your injured elbow and that it has regained its normal strength compared to your uninjured elbow. You must have full range of motion of your elbow.

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When can I return to my sport or activity?
The goal of rehabilitation it to return you to your sport or activity as soon as is safely possible. If your return too soon your may worsen your injury, which could lead to permanent damage. Everyone recovers from injury at a different rate. Return to your sport or activity will be determined by how soon your elbow recovers, not by how many days or weeks it has been since your injury occurred. In general, the longer you have symptoms before you start treatment, the longer it will take to get better. You may return to your sport or activity when you are able to forcefully grip your tennis racquet, bat, or golf club, or do activities such as working at a keyboard without pain in your elbow. In sports such as gymnastics, it is important that you are able to bear weight on your elbow painlessly. It is important that there is no swelling around your injured elbow and that it has regained its normal strength compared to your uninjured elbow. You must have full range of motion of your elbow.

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How can I prevent tennis elbow?
To prevent tennis elbow:
– Use proper form during your activities, whether they are sports or job- related. For instance, be sure your tennis stroke is correct and that your tennis racquet has the proper grip size
– Warm up before playing tennis or doing other activities that involve your elbow or arm muscles. Gently stretch you elbow and arm muscles before and after exercises.
– Ice your elbow after exercise or work.
– In job- related activities, be sure your posture is correct and that the position of your arms during your work doesnt cause overuse of your elbow or arm muscles.

Pierre Rouzier, M.D. THE SPORTS MEDICINE PATIENT ADVISOR

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