Healthy Living

Why Lateral Epicondylitis is Called Tennis Elbow

Why Lateral Epicondylitis is Called Tennis Elbow

Key Takeaways

  • Lateral epicondylitis is a condition of the arms that creates pain around the elbow joints.
  • The condition is typically a result of overuse of the elbow joint, and a treatment plan will be special to each individual case. 
  • People with the condition may not be aware they have it until the pain manifests, which could take up to a month or more. 

Lateral epicondylitis is a condition of the arms that creates pain around the elbow joints. The condition may be a result of a number of causes, but it is typically from overuse of the elbow. However, it may take some time before lateral epicondylitis starts showing intense pain; it may be up to one month or more from the onset of the condition. People with the condition may not be aware they have it until the pain manifests. Lateral epicondylitis does not affect the whole arm as many people think. It mostly originates from the joints located around the elbow. However, the condition can cause some complications to the whole arm if it is not treated in a timely fashion.

Tennis elbow, or lateral epicondylitis, is a painful condition of the elbow caused typically by overuse. Not surprisingly, playing tennis, other racquet sports, or another sport or activity involving use of the elbow can cause this condition. Recent studies show that tennis elbow is often due to damage to a specific forearm muscle. It is a repetitive strain injury.   

Your elbow joint is a joint made up of three bones: your upper arm bone and the two bones in your forearm. There are also bony bumps at the bottom of the humerus called epicondyles. The bony bump on the outside (lateral side) of the elbow is called the lateral epicondyle. Muscles, ligaments and tendons hold the elbow joint together. Lateral epicondylitis, or tennis elbow, involves the muscles and tendons of your forearm. Your forearm muscles extend your wrist and fingers. Your forearm tendons — often called extensors — attach the muscles to bone.

Why is it called lateral epicondylitis?

The term originates from a bony bump located in the elbow called the lateral epicondyle. This structure is usually connected to the muscles behind the elbow that enable twisting of the elbow. Around this area are numerous tendons that connect muscles to each other.

These tendons are further made up of collagen. The collagen lining strands give the tendons enough strength to withstand any movement of the elbow. There are expansion and contraction movements around this area. In case there is excess movement or overuse of these tendons, they can get damaged hence causing the condition.

Why the condition is called tennis elbow

  • The condition affects the elbow causing pain, swelling and other effects.
  • It is very often related to tennis players as a result of excess movement of the elbow. Tennis players engage in a lot of fast, sharp movements of the elbow. As a result, the tendons and muscles around the elbow are subjected to much tension, which in some cases can cause damage as a result of rupture.
  • Athletes of other sports as well as people who participate in activities using the elbow can also develop the condition. For example golfers and baseball players are at a higher risk of having the condition. 

A tennis player or a badminton player should take coaching lessons from a professional to ensure proper techniques for holding the racquet, serving maneuvers, back hand strokes, etc. The instructor should also teach appropriate racquet grip to avoid injuries. Stretching and warm-up exercises before playing will be of much help too. 

What causes lateral epicondylitis?

Lateral epicondylitis is a condition that can result from a number of factors. However, most of these causes are related to the activities an individual is engaged in.

Repetitive movements of the elbow cause complications in the motion of the elbow, causing tennis elbow. People likely to suffer from the condition include cooks, carpenters, weightlifters, plumbers and painters. It is thought that the repetition and weight lifting required in these occupations leads to injury.

  • Overuse is a common factor for lateral epicondylitis. This often happens to tennis players. If they overuse their arms during sporting events, it causes tennis elbow. This is a result of damage to the tendons around the elbow.
  • Injuries resulting from a hit or fall can cause tennis elbow. People also supporting themselves with the elbow for a long time can suffer the condition as a result of injuries.

Symptoms of tennis elbow

  • Pain when lifting or grasping something
  • Increased pain around the elbow when stretching the arm
  • Pain around the wrist nerves
  • Numbness and difficulties moving the fingers and the arm
  • Swelling on the outer part of the elbow

How do you treat tennis elbow?

Sometimes, forearm splints are recommended. These are used to bring down the load and pressure on the elbow muscles. A wrist splint may also be recommended to support the muscle which extends to the wrist to bring relief.

Treatment for tennis elbow varies depending on the intensity and the needs of the patient.

  1. Resting: This is the most common treatment measure, especially when the condition is in its early stages. Resting your arm will help relieve the symptoms and prevent recurrence of the condition.
  2. Herbal and home remedies: This involves the intake of anti-inflammatory agents and use of supplements to relieve pain.

Other treatment measures can involve the use of painkillers, exercises to strengthen muscles and nutrition that targets the strengthening of the tendons. Surgery can also be done in extreme cases.

Lateral epicondylitis or tennis elbow is a condition which causes pain in the elbow muscles. The condition should be treated quickly and efficiently in order to avoid future complications with the affected elbow.

Surgery — A majority of patients with lateral epicondylitis are treated without any surgical intervention. Patients who continue to have persistent pain despite months of non-operative treatment are potential candidates for surgery. The degenerated portion of the extensor tendon originated at the elbow is repaired. Often, a portion of the bone is shaved to promote blood vessels to grow into the area and aid in healing. Patients are immobilized for several weeks and then undergo a physiotherapy program. Most elbow pain without any other obvious explanation is either tennis or golfer’s elbow, especially if you’ve been working at the computer a lot (or playing a lot of tennis or golf). Tissues right around and below the bony projection on the side of your elbow will be tender. The muscles in the back of the arm can start aching. Long days at the keyboard will generally make it worse.

Icing — It has been suggested that tendinitis hurts mostly because of inflammation. In acute cases, ice may help with inflammation and potentially stop progression of the condition.

Contrast hydrotherapy — Stimulating the tissue with alternating applications of heat and cold to the affected area can dramatically increase circulation to the entire arm and hand. By far the most convenient method of doing this is in a double-sink: one filled with cold water, the other with hot water.

Self-massage — Tennis elbow is aggravated by muscle tension in the forearms. It is often helpful to do some simple massaging to the area. 

Ergonomic adjustments — If you use a computer frequently, you may wish to invest in some improvements to your workstation to aid in healing from “computer elbow”. Use a firm chair with a hand-rest to rest your arms from the elbows to the wrist. Also, consider getting a small pillow or rest for your wrist when using your mouse at your computer.