Epicondylitis is the inflammation of an epicondyle or its surrounding tissues. An epicondyle is the bony outgrowth on the elbow where many of the forearm muscles attach.
Lateral epicondylitis, commonly known as "tennis elbow", is an inflammation of the muscles or tendons that join the forearm muscles on the outside of the elbow. Medial epicondylitis, or "golfer's elbow", affects the inside of the forearm.
Epicondylitis is characterized by localized elbow pain. The pain is particularly severe when performing certain movements including:
- rotating the forearm outwards or inwards (twisting movement)
- violent extension of the wrist with palm turned down
- holding heavy objects in your hands
- picking up objects and shaking hands
In those with epicondylitis, pain can occur simply by touching the inflamed area or flexing the elbow.
X-rays of the elbow are usually normal in patients with epicondylitis. On rare occasions, calcification may be seen where the tendon attaches to the epicondyle. Generally speaking, there is no visible redness or inflammation.
Contrary to popular belief, most cases of epicondylitis are not caused by playing tennis or golf - although these sports may be partially responsible in some. Repetitive movements, whether performed as part of household chores, professional or sporting activities, are the main cause of epicondylitis. A repetitive injury, however, minor or severe, can also be at the root of the pain. Occasionally, there is no explanation for the pain.
Rest is prescribed as the first treatment for epicondylitis. Avoiding the movements responsible for the pain is the first step towards recovery. Then, changing the movements responsible for the epicondylitis, whether in the workplace or on the playing field, will help prevent further inflammation.
The use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatories may also help some. Cortisone infiltrations, although rare, can be administered.
For more information, speak to your pharmacist!