Editor's note: House Calls runs every other Thursday. Today's column is written by Bradley R. Kime, staff physical therapist at Sutter Coast Hospital.
Lateral epicondylosis, aka "tennis elbow," is a condition where the outer part of the elbow becomes painful and may radiate into the forearm and wrist.
It is the tendon that attaches the wrist muscles to the outer part of the elbow that is affected. It is generally painful when a person shakes hands, holds a coffee cup or turns a doorknob.
First recognized in people playing racquet sports in the late 1800s, it was given the name "tennis elbow." However, it commonly occurs in people who've never before played tennis. The majority of cases occur in people ages 31-50, and it equally affects both genders and generally occurs on the dominant side. The condition affects 3 percent of the world's population and increases to 10 percent within the older age ranges.
Tennis elbow is quite prevalent in people whose jobs require gripping
and lifting. It can occur afflict those who work a lot with tools, such
as a mechanic or plumber, a carpenter using a screwdriver or hammer, a
cook using a knife or lifting pots, or a desk worker using a computer
Previously thought to be an overuse injury with an active
inflammatory process, recent evidence has demonstrated that it is
degenerative in nature and without inflammation. That is to say that if
one was to examine the tendon under a microscope there would be no
inflammatory blood products, but the tendon would appear more worn out
and tattered with small tears.
People who experience tennis elbow often suffer from the pain for
several months to years. Unfortunately, those who are left untreated
often develop a chronic problem. If you are going to attempt to treat it
yourself, you should use the "RICE" principle which stands for "rest,
ice, compression and elevation."
If you happen to be suffering from this ailment you should see your
doctor for a check-up. Your doctor will probably do an examination in
which he or she twists and pokes your elbow to make sure that you are
indeed suffering from tennis elbow symptoms. Once this diagnosis has
been established, the doctor will determine the best route of care.
Research studies have found that a cortisone injection is the best
treatment in the short term and that physical therapy treatment is the
best treatment for the long term. There is also some evidence that an
elbow strap as well as over the counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory
drugs may be beneficial. Ultrasound and extracorporeal shock wave
therapy have been found to be ineffective in the treatment of tennis
Physical therapists would probably prescribe some simple exercises to
strengthen and stretch the forearm muscles. To be specific there is a
lot of evidence that the lowering phase of the strengthening exercise,
called eccentric strengthening, is the most beneficial exercise for
degenerative tendon problems. They may also do a maneuver called "joint
mobilization" that repositions your elbow joint. Lastly, don't be
surprised if they want to treat your neck as well, as this may be a
culprit in your malady.
The best treatment for any disease is prevention. Maintaining a
regular exercise regime is recommended by the American College of Sports
Medicine. It is recommended that, at a minimum, Americans should do
aerobic exercise for 30 minutes five days a week, and strengthening
exercises at least twice a week.
Email suggestions for future House Calls columns to Beth Liles at
Sutter Coast Hospital, firstname.lastname@example.org