Expert Health Articles

Epicondylitis

Laura E DurliatLaura E Durliat, OTR/L

Occupational Therapist

As summer approaches so does yard work, golf, tennis and gardening, which means repetitive work, aches and pains. Often the terms tennis elbow and golfers elbow gets tossed around. What does that mean and what can be done about it?  

Tennis elbow is lateral epicondylitis and golfers elbow is medial epicondylitis. The word epicondylitis means inflammation of tendons which comes from a repetitive motion of the wrist, forearm and elbow. The pain is felt on the bony areas on the inside (medial) or outside (lateral) of the elbow. This pain develops as the tendons and muscles of the forearm and hand travel up and attach to one point on the epicondyle. Instead of multiple attachment sites there is one general location for attachment. With all muscles pulling on one tendon there is more reason for injury. Epicondylitis affects men and women usually over the age of 40. This condition often happens to individuals even if they are not golfers or tennis players. 

The burning/irritating pain of the elbow comes from: 

  • An overly repetitive motion of the wrist, forearm and elbow  
  • Lifting, pushing and pulling with the arm away from the body 
  • Lifting with the wrist bent up or down 
  • Repetitive forearm rotation (similar to using a screwdriver) 

Tips to help reduce and decrease your pain: 

  • Keep wrist straight and in a neutral position 
  • Keep your elbow close to your body 
  • Use two hands to lift heavy objects 
  • Lighten grip on handles and computer mouse 
  • Use larger handles for kitchen and garden tools 

General tips to help with tennis:

  • Use fresh balls and avoid wet balls whenever possible 
  • Avoid playing in high winds and poor weather 
  • Try to hit the ball in the center of the racquet to decrease vibration and resistance 
  • Use the power in your lower body, trunk and shoulders to hit the ball 
  • Avoid a tight, sustained grip 

General tips to help with golf: 

  • Avoid hitting the ground especially when hard or dry  
  • Look for obstacles like roots and rocks 
  • Lighten your grip on your club 
  • Use power in your lower body and trunk when swinging
  • Be sure not to extend the elbow sharply at impact of hit 

When you are having arm/elbow pain an elbow band can help to decrease pain by decreasing force on tendons and allowing them to heal. The band should be worn on the forearm just below the area of pain on the epicondyle. Only wear the band while pain persists and then wean off of the band to allow the area to strengthen. 

If the pain continues to persist visit your physician for additional pain control or surgery options. Therapy can assist you with bracing, pain control, exercises, joint protection and strengthening. Attempt to incorporate these tips into your daily tasks. By modifying your tasks and techniques it can decrease your pain and maybe even improve your game.