Elbow injuries/Lateral Epicondylitis

The elbow joint is comprised of three bones,the arm bone, or humerus, and two forearm bones, the ulna and radius. There are bony bumps at the bottom of the humerus called epicondyles.

One of the more common conditions involving pain in the area of the elbow area is an overuse injury called lateral epicondylitis.

Lateral epicondylitis is most frequently known by the term “tennis elbow”. It is an overuse injury that results from the pull upon tendons attached at the lateral elbow. Microscopic tears form where multiple forearm tendons attach to the lateral epicondyle. This leads to inflammation and pain. Repeated motions involving extension of the wrist and/or frequent turning of the forearm are often the culprit. Pain begins as mild and slowly worsens over weeks and months. There is often no specific injury associated with the start of symptoms.

Symptoms include:

  • pain in the elbow area which extends along the outside of the forearm to the back of the hand
  • a weak grip
  • pain is brought on by grasping or twisting motions, gripping actions or attempting to hold onto heavy items

Treatment of Lateral epicondylitis

The good news? Over 80% of those who have experienced lateral epicondylitis will have success with nonsurgical treatments.

However, once experienced, tennis elbow pain can return if the proper precautions are not taken.

During the acute phase of lateral epicondylitis rest, ice and compression can assist with recovery.

Rest: you will have to stop participation in the activities that aggravate your pain. This may mean sports or heavy work activities will have to be modified, or eliminated for several weeks.

Ice: use of ice 2-3 times per day will assist with reduction of the inflammation and pain associated with this condition.

Compression: Using a forearm strap that wraps around the your forearm helps to reduce the angle of pull the forearm muscles exert upon the lateral epicondyle. During activities involving the affected elbow, this often helps manage the symptoms associated with tennis elbow.

Medications: Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicines are used to reduce pain and swelling.

Physical Therapy

Additional interventions are often necessary to successfully address the persistent pain of lateral epicondylitis. This may include recommendation for physical therapy intervention.

A physical therapist will design a program for you that may include:

  • modalities such as ultrasound, soft tissue mobilization, or muscle stimulating techniques to improve muscle healing and reduce inflammation
  • instruction in specific stretching techniques for elbow, forearm and hand structures
  • designing a progressive reconditioning and strength building program to assist you to regain your full grip and elbow strength.
  • education regarding activity modification. This may involve having your sport or work equipment checked for proper fit. Changing the grip size on your equipment may help reduce stress on the forearm.

Back to Resources