Lateral epicondylitis is a painful condition that affects the elbow. Many people now refer to the condition as “tennis elbow,” but British surgeon Henry Morris first called the condition “lawn tennis arm” in an 1883 publication of The Lancet. Others had called it different names, such as “writer’s cramp” and “washer woman’s elbow.”
Doctors have learned quite a lot about lateral epicondylitis since the 1800s. They quickly learned that the condition affects more than just tennis players – the painful elbow problem can develop in almost anyone who uses repetitive motions with their elbow. Medical researchers have also learned about the underlying causes of lateral epicondylitis and its risk factors.
Causes of Lateral Epicondylitis
Lateral epicondylitis is frequently the result of damage to the extensor carpi radialis brevis (ECRB) forearm muscle, which helps stabilize your wrist when your elbow is straight. You use your ECRB muscle when you hit a groundstroke in tennis, for example. Overuse can weaken the ECRB, which can allow microscopic tears in the tendon that attaches this muscle to the bone. Damage to this tendon causes inflammation and pain.
The ECRB’s location puts it at high risk for damage. Bending and straightening your elbow causes the muscle to rub against bony bumps. This rubbing motion causes gradual wear and tear of the ECRB over time.
Lateral Epicondylitis Affects More People than Just Tennis Players
While playing tennis can lead to tennis elbow, people who engage in other activities can also develop lateral epicondylitis. Many people develop the condition while engaging in repetitive, vigorous use of their forearm muscle at work or during recreational activities.
Painters, plumbers and carpenters are particularly prone to developing this condition. Autoworkers, cooks and butchers also develop tennis elbow.
Most people who get tennis elbow are between the ages of 30 and 50 years old, according to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, although anyone can develop lateral epicondylitis if they have the risk factors.
Improper technique and improper equipment may increase the risk for this condition.
Sometimes the condition occurs without any repetitive injury. Doctors refer to this is insidious, which means it is of unknown cause.
If your elbow and forearm hurts, it could be lateral epicondylitis. Consult with a physician to learn the cause of your tennis elbow.