Lateral Epicondylitis – Not Just for Tennis Players

What is Lateral Epicondylitis?

Lateral epicondylitis is the medical term for what is commonly called tennis elbow. The Florida Hand Center hand doctors offer both conservative and surgical treatment for this painful condition that affects the muscles and tendons that attach to a bony prominence on the side of the elbow. The muscles straighten and stabilize the wrist; they become weakened and can degenerate from overuse. The term tennis elbow came into use because tennis players often develop this condition, although people who don’t play tennis can also develop lateral epicondylitis.

Who Gets Lateral Epicondylitis?

Painters, plumbers and carpenters are particularly prone to developing lateral epicondylitis. Auto workers, cooks and butchers are also at higher risk than the average person. Scientists think that repetitive motions and weight lifting (for example, swinging a hammer or using a wrench) may be what leads to injury. The dominant arm is more likely to be affected, although lateral epicondylitis can occur on either side. Lateral epicondylitis is more common in people in their forties and fifties, which indicates that the condition develops over many years.

What Are the Symptoms of Lateral Epicondylitis?

Symptoms usually start slowly, and most patients can’t pinpoint a specific injury. When someone has lateral epicondylitis, the area on the outside of the elbow can become tender to touch. Lifting and gripping produce pain, which can be severe, and may radiate from the elbow to the hand. In some cases, pain occurs with any motion of the elbow. Doctors usually diagnose the condition based on the symptoms.

What is Conservative Treatment?

Although it takes a long time (six months or more) for recovery, conservative treatment may be sufficient in many cases. Since overuse is the primary cause of lateral epicondylitis, rest is an important part of the treatment. Whatever activity caused the problem, whether playing tennis or some other repetitive activity, must be severely limited or stopped entirely. A brace can help stabilize and support the elbow. Anti-inflammatory medications may help with the pain, and direct application of ice, heat or therapeutic creams may be useful. Occupational therapy is used to help people learn how to modify their activities to prevent pain from recurring. Research is currently underway to evaluate the use of platelet rich plasma (PRP) for tennis elbow. PRP is a preparation of the patient’s own blood with highly concentrated platelets, which contains proteins called growth factors that may aid in healing.

Will I Need Surgery?

Hand specialists try to avoid surgery for lateral epicondylitis. All surgery has risks, and the results of this particular surgery are often inconsistent. However, when the pain becomes incapacitating or the condition hasn’t responded to conservative therapy, surgery may be an option. The hand surgeon removes the damaged tendon tissue. Surgery is usually performed in an outpatient setting like an ambulatory surgery center.

Early treatment makes a difference with lateral epicondylitis, so contact the Florida Hand Center as soon as you notice symptoms.