Lateral epicondylitis / laterale epicondylalgia
The tennis elbow is a common condition resulting in pain along the outside of the elbow. Sometimes the pain radiates to the forearm, wrist and hand.
The term 'tennis elbow' is misleading, as only a small number of people with tennis elbow actually play tennis.
Description of the condition
The muscles that extend the wrist and fingers are called the 'forearm extensors'. They run from the hand right up to the outside of the elbow. There they attach to the bone of the upper arm bone (the humerus) via tendons. This tendon tissue is affected in the case of a tennis elbow.
Cause and origin
The cause is attributed to repeated tightening of the forearm extensors. This causes prolonged traction on the tendon tissue and the periosteum. The symptoms are usually caused by repetitive movements of the wrist. Think of painting, computer work, gardening, polishing or working with a screw driver.
The symptoms normally develop gradually, but can also occur as an acute condition. Usually this is preceded by a prolonged period of degeneration (= decreased quality) of the tendon tissue, but this did not result in symptoms.
Signs & symptoms
- Pain along the outside of the elbow, at the level of the lateral epicondyle (this is the hard bony lump on the outside of the elbow).
- The pain can occur when forcefully making a fist (with extended elbows).
- Loss of strength (for example when lifting objects with overhand grip).
- Pressure on the outside of the elbow can be extremely painful.
- Pain can radiate to the forearm, wrist and hand.
- In some cases, complete flexion of the elbow is painful.
- Stretching the forearm extensors can provoke the symptoms.
The diagnosis is confirmed by means of the physical examination. A simple at-home test is lifting a chair with overhand grip. This results in the typical pain symptoms associated with a tennis elbow.
The treatment can include stretching of the forearm extensors and eccentric muscle strengthening exercises. A corticosteriod injection can yield very good short term results. However, long term results are disappointing.
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Verhaar, J.A.N. & Linden, A.J. van der (2003). Orthopedie. Houten: Bohn Stafleu van Loghum.