Lateral Epicondylitis: More than “Tennis Elbow”

Lateral epicondylitis, most commonly referred to as tennis elbow, is a serious and painful condition that is best treated by a hand doctor. The Florida Hand Center is led by Dr. Stephen Helgemo, Jr., a board certified arm and hand surgeon with years of experience in the successful treatment of lateral epicondylitis

Causes of Lateral Epicondylitis

This condition is an inflammation of the tendons that join the forearm muscles on the outside of the elbow. The inflammation is caused by repetitive motions and often occurs in when playing racquet sports such as tennis or racquet ball.

Although many people think of lateral epicondylitis as a sports injury, according to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons it is often common in many professions, including:

  • Painters
  • Plumbers
  • Carpenters
  • Auto workers
  • Cooks
  • Butchers

Regardless of the cause of the condition, it is important for suffers to consult with a hand specialists with specific expertise in treating this condition

Symptoms of Lateral Epicondylitis

As with most repetitive injuries, the symptoms of lateral epicondylitis develop slowly. Often the pain is mild then slowly worsens over weeks and months. The most common symptoms of this condition include:

  • Pain or burning on the outer part of the elbow
  • Weak grip strength

A person’s dominate hand is most likely to develop lateral epicondylitis, although either or both arms can be effected. Symptoms often worsen with activities that utilize the forearm, such as playing tennis, turning a screwdriver, or even shaking hands.

Treatment of Lateral Epicondylitis

The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons found that approximately 80% to 95% of patients experienced success with nonsurgical treatment. The treatment process often includes:

  • Rest the arm.
  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicines such as aspirin or ibuprofen to reduce pain and swelling.
  • If the condition is the result of playing a racquet sport, an equipment check should be conducted to assure proper fit and size.
  • Physical or occupational therapy, particularly from therapists with specialized hand training, can help rehabilitate the forearm.
  • Using a brace or splint centered over the back of the forearm may also help relieve symptoms of lateral epicondylitis as it rests the inflamed muscles and tendons.
  • Steroid cortisone injections are strong anti-inflammatory medicines that may be utilized by your hand specialist.

In some cases, a non-surgical approach is not effective in treating lateral epicondylitis and hand surgery may be recommended. Surgery may be open or arthroscopic and often the diseased muscle is removed and the healthy muscle reattached to the bone. Rehabilitation is often recommended following surgery. This surgery is considered a “success” in 80% to 90% of patients, although some loss of muscle strength is common.

If you have lateral epicondylitis, or tennis elbow, don’t wait for the condition to worsen before seeking medical attention from a hand surgeon. The sooner treatment beings, the less invasive it is likely to be. For more information, contact The Florida Hand Center.