Tennis elbow, also known as “lateral epicondylitis,” is a painful condition affecting many patients. Tennis elbow is caused by degeneration within the extensor carpi radialis brevis (ECRB) tendon on the outside of the elbow. Despite the name, tennis elbow is not just limited to tennis players. In fact, tennis elbow is commonly diagnosed in patients between the ages of 30 and 50 years, many of whom have never played tennis.
Patients experience pain on the outside of the elbow and often point to a very tender spot near the lateral epicondyle bone. Symptoms can be aggravated by a forceful, repetitive activity with the hand and wrist, such as the tennis backhand swing or heavy gripping. Lifting light objects, gripping the steering wheel, and even simple household activities can be painful at times. Fortunately, the majority of patients with tennis elbow improve with non-operative treatment, although symptoms often take several weeks or months to resolve.
Golfer’s elbow, or “medial epicondylitis,” is a similar condition which causes pain on the medial, or inside, of the elbow. Both conditions can be diagnosed in the office based on your symptoms, physical exam, and x-rays. MRI is typically not required to make the diagnosis.
Treatments usually involves stretches, wearing a wrist brace or forearm strap, therapy, oral anti-inflammatory medications, and corticosteroid injections. Surgery is occasionally needed if the patient does not respond to conservative treatment.