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Elbow Tendonitis Overview

by Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT May 29, 2020 0 Comments

Woman Elbow Pain

Elbow tendonitis pain should never stop you from participating in the activities you love, though it can be a major obstacle. Elbow tendonitis is a common condition that occurs from overuse of the elbow and comes along with pain and a variety of other symptoms. Continue reading to learn about this condition and how it can be treated.

What is Tendonitis of the Elbow?

Tendonitis in the elbow is caused by inflammation of the tendons that run between the forearm to the elbow. When you overuse your arm playing tennis, golf, or other repetitive motions, it can cause microscopic tears to the muscles and tendons resulting in swelling and pain. It is the most common cause of elbow pain. 

  • Types of Elbow Tendonitis

    Two major types of elbow tendonitis are tennis and golfer’s elbow. While similar in some ways, they each come with a few key differences related to location and mechanism of injury.

    Tennis Elbow

    Tennis elbow tendonitis, also known as lateral epicondylitis, involves the Extensor Carpi Radialis Brevis (ECRB) muscle and tendon. Sufferers experience the pain on the outside edge of the elbow and forearm. It typically has a gradual onset.

    This type typically occurs with those who frequently use their hands and wrist, especially if it involves gripping with their thumb and first two fingers. It is most common in people who engage in tennis, weight lifting, carpentry, and other similar activities. While it is often associated with sports, it is just as common with everyday activities like computer use and cooking.

    Golfer’s Elbow

    Golfer’s elbow or medial epicondylitis has a very similar mechanism of injury to tennis elbow but affects completely different muscle groups on the inside of the elbow. Activities and sports that may cause excessive bending of the wrist are the biggest risk factors. These include motions like the backhand of racquet sports, certain weight lifting moves, and construction work.

Learn more about Tennis & Golfer's Elbow Pain

What Causes Tendonitis in the Elbow

Tendonitis in the elbow can be caused by many different factors. Since the symptoms appear gradually it can be difficult to discern the cause. If you fall into one of these three categories, it may be the contributing cause of your elbow tendonitis.

  • Overuse

    The most common cause of elbow tendonitis is overuse. Repeated movements of the hand, wrist, and elbow begin to wear the muscles and tendons in your forearm. This causes microscopic tears in the muscle and tendons, which causes pain and inflammation. This makes rest a good first step for treatment before slowly beginning an exercise program for the elbow.

  • Age

    The most common age for developing elbow tendonitis is between 30-50 years old. This is due to a decrease in tissue extensibility. However, elbow tendonitis can occur at any age.

  • Strenuous Activities

    As you would expect, tennis elbow and golfer’s elbow can be caused by their respective sports. However, elbow tendonitis can be caused by a long list of different activities. The most common perpetrators are weightlifting, carpentry, typing, or any activity that requires repetitive motion while holding a strong grip.

Elbow Tendonitis Symptoms

Symptoms of tendonitis in the elbow appear gradually. The pain normally occurs in your dominant arm but can happen in either. If you have any of these symptoms of elbow tendonitis check with your doctor to find out the next steps.

  • Pain and tenderness in the elbow and forearm, and sometimes even wrist and hand.
  • Grip strength is weakened.
  • Numbness or tingling in the arm and fingers.
  • Stiffness in your elbow.
  • Elbow Tendonitis Diagnosis

    If you suspect the cause of your pain is elbow tendonitis, you can get started with home remedies. Otherwise, if your symptoms are moderate to severe or you suspect a more serious injury you can seek advice from your physician or physical therapist. Be ready to tell your doctor your symptoms, when they occur, and exactly where you experience pain or discomfort. Imaging is not essential but can be used as needed.

    X-ray

    An x-ray will provide a clear picture of the bones in the elbow and arm. It can help your doctor rule out arthritis or a fracture if necessary.

    EMG

    Electromyography (EMG) will rule out nerve compression in your neck, arm, and wrist, which are often confused (or can coincide) with elbow tendonitis.

    MRI

    Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) provides the best soft tissue to assess any muscle and tendon damage.

Elbow Tendonitis Recovery

For conservative care, healing time is pretty straightforward. If more invasive options are needed, like surgery, you can expect to go home the same day. Your arm will be immobilized for approximately one week using a splint. 

Once the splint is removed elbow tendonitis rehab will begin! You will be given a set of stretching exercises to regain flexibility in your arm and elbow as you regain function within 6-12 weeks.

Healing Elbow Tendonitis

In most cases, elbow tendonitis can be healed with rest, ice, and over the counter pain medications. Typically, a combination of different options works best, combined with the proper application at the right time. With the right knowledge and tools, you can feel empowered and get a huge head start in the healing process.

Sources:

https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/diseases--conditions/tennis-elbow-lateral-epicondylitis/

https://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/tennis-elbow-lateral-epicondylitis#1

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/golfers-elbow/symptoms-causes/syc-20372868

SHOP ELBOW TENDONITIS

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Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT
Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT

JayDee Vykoukal is a Doctor of Physical Therapy, owner of the healthy habit platform Health Means Wealth, and freelance medical writer. She loves traveling and spending time with her family in nature. Her passion is helping others continue to participate in the activities they love through education and proper exercise.



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