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What You Need to Know About Lateral Epicondylitis

by Rahul Kapur

What You Need to Know About Lateral Epicondylitis

“Life requires movement” - Aristotle


Ancient Greek Philosopher Aristotle knew the value of movement, simply deciding not to stay where you currently are. We all move in a variety of ways, whether that’s mentally, emotionally, or what most often comes to mind, physically. Our bodies moves us wherever we want to go, thanks in large part to our tendons, thick cords that connect our muscles to our bones, they help move our joints.  We ask a lot of our tendons, but what happens if these tendons start to get irritated and agitated? That’s called tendinitis, the inflammation of a tendon.


One of the most common forms of tendinitis is known as tennis elbow (lateral epicondylitis), but it’s not limited to just tennis players. Tendinitis is frequently caused by repetitive movements that put stress on our tendons, for example, swinging a tennis racket. Lateral epicondylitis impacts those that may have never even picked up a tennis racket. When we take a look at the anatomy of the elbow, we can begin to see how this problem occurs.




The elbow joint is a joint made up of three bones: the upper arm bone (humerus) and the two bones in your forearm (radius and ulna). There are 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.




Lateral epicondylitis impacts the tendon that is attached from the forearm muscles to the elbow. This tendon is known as the the Extensor Carpi Radialis Brevis (ECRB). The extensor carpi radialis brevis (ECRB) muscle helps stabilize the wrist when the elbow is straight. Regardless of what sport you play, or activity you do, you’re still capable of applying pressure to these muscles and tendons, resulting in “tennis elbow”.




If your outer elbow is sensitive to the touch, or to movement, you may have lateral epicondylitis. The pain can actually move up and down the arm as well, affecting the forearm, bicep and in some cases, the entire arm. People with tennis elbow may experience pain when executing simple day-to-day tasks, like lifting a coffee cup or unscrewing a bottle cap.


If this similar pain is associated with your inner elbow, then you might have what is referred to as golfer’s elbow (medial epicondylitis). However, treatment for both forms of this elbow tendinitis are similar.


Lateral epicondylitis can sneak up on those of us that don’t frequently use or strengthen our forearm muscles. If we participate in sudden activity that requires us to use the forearm repetitively, we could quickly overuse it and experience many tennis elbow like symptoms.



The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons lists a few non-surgical treatment options to deal with tennis elbow. Nearly all cases of tennis elbow can be successfully treated with non-surgical options:

  • Rest - Give your elbow a break, Tennis Elbow comes from overuse
  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicines - Take some Advil, Tylenol, etc.
  • Physical therapy - Stretch it out, redevelop strength
    • Muscle-strengthening exercises can generally be divided up into concentric and eccentric exercises.
      • In concentric exercises, the muscle contracts (tightens)
      • In eccentric exercises, the muscle relaxes.

(One example of a concentric exercise is holding a weight in your hand and pulling it up towards your body. Gradually lowering the weight again is an eccentric exercise. Slowly working against gravity like this strengthens the muscles.)

  • Brace - Ease up some of the tension and pressure on your elbow

If none of these options result in any significant changes for you, I would strongly suggest receiving a further evaluation. Radiography is often unnecessary for the diagnosis and treatment of epicondylitis and associates tendinosis. For recalcitrant cases, however, a three-view elbow x-ray series, to evaluate for bone spurs and calcium deposits within the tendons.

Just as Aristotle once said, “life requires movement.” It’s on us as human beings to continue to take care of ourselves. Our bodies are our greatest resource, and every single part of us is working keep us moving in the right direction. If you’re experiencing pain or discomfort as you move, it’s important to examine what you’re feeling and explore solutions. Let’s do what it takes to keep us moving forward.



Rahul Kapur
Rahul Kapur


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