Lateral Epicondylitis: What It Is And How It's Treated

Lateral Epicondylitis, commonly called tennis elbow, is a condition that affects tendons in the arm from the elbow to the hand. The condition can affect a large group of people who are regularly doing repetitive motions with their wrist and arms. The groups who suffer the most from lateral epicondylitis include tennis players, plumbers, painters, butchers, and carpenters. If you have been recently diagnosed with lateral epicondylitis and would like to know more, here is a brief overview of what causes the condition and how it is treated.

How the Condition Develops

As the arm is used in a repetitive motion such as hitting a tennis ball backhanded or by constantly going up and down and sideways with the arm while painting walls and houses, the stress on the muscles and tendons in the elbow can cause little tears to develop in the extensor tendons. The extensor tendon starts at the elbow and ends at the base of the hand. The tears in the tendons normally only happen in the elbow region, but the inflammation and pain caused by the tears can radiate throughout the whole upper arm and can make it hard to use the arm and hand.

Treatment Options

Your doctor will usually start out by having you rest your arm and apply ice packs to it. The rest will give the tendons time to heal the tears, and the ice packs will help control the inflammation and pain. A doctor will typically prescribe over-the-counter medications such as aspirin and ibuprofen to help control the pain and inflammation. The use of arm braces and wrist splints are also commonly used to keep you from moving the tendons.

You can also do stretching exercises to help relieve the condition. A stretching exercise that helps the lateral epicondylitis starts by extending your arm out with the palm side of your hand facing up (your fingers should be pointed toward the ground). You will grab the palm with your other hand and bend the hand toward you until you feel the muscles and tendons stretching in your injured arm. You should keep your hand in this position for about 30 seconds or so and then release it. You'll want to repeat the stretching exercises a couple of times to obtain its full beneficial effects on the tendons.

In more severe cases where the tendon had broken apart, your orthopedic doctor will have to perform surgery to reconnect the tendon.

Treatment Outlook

Your arm should start to feel better in a few weeks if the tendons didn't suffer a complete tear. If surgery was involved, it could be up to six months to a year before you will regain full usage of the arm. However, in both situations, you will need to learn how to use the arm differently to avoid the repetitive motion injury from reoccurring in the future. Your doctor should be able to refer you to a physical therapist that can help retrain you on how to use the arm.