Medial Versus Lateral Epicondylitis
Medial and lateral epicondylitis are both painful conditions that commonly affect the elbows of different athletes. This article will help you better understand both conditions and their recommended treatments.
What’s the difference between medial and lateral epicondylitis?
On either side of the elbow joint are bony bumps that connect to the base of the humerus (or upper arm bone). These bony bumps are known as epicondyles and attach to tendons that stabilize the elbow joint. In cases of excessive repetitive motion, the tendons that connect to the epicondyles can become inflamed, leading to epicondylitis.
- Medial epicondylitis: Also known as “golfer’s elbow,” this condition commonly occurs among golf players and other athletes who repetitively stress the tendons at the inside of the elbow. These tendons connect the muscles of the forearm to the bony joint of the elbow, and when they are strained from overuse, the inside of the elbow becomes sore, tender, and inflamed.
- Lateral epicondylitis: This condition is also known as “tennis elbow” and results from similar repetitive motion that strains the tendons connecting the forearm muscles to the outside of the elbow joint. The Extensor Carpi Radialis Brevis tendon is often the most at risk of strain or tearing.
What causes medial and lateral epicondylitis?
Epicondylitis often emerges as a result of repetitive stress from sports or physical activity that strains the tendons in the elbow. Golf and tennis are likely culprits, but many other sports can contribute to the condition, including baseball and throwing sports. That’s why these conditions are also known as tennis elbow and golfer’s elbow.
The forearm muscles allow you to extend and swing your wrist and fingers. Repetitive swinging or throwing motions can strain or produce microtears in the tendons that attach the forearm muscles to the bone of the elbow joint, which can lead to medial or lateral epicondylitis.
What are the symptoms of medial and lateral epicondylitis?
The most prominent symptom of either form of epicondylitis is pain in the elbow or forearm. Medial epicondylitis produces pain in the inner part of the elbow, while lateral epicondylitis produces pain in the outer elbow. The pain usually gets worse during activity that stresses the elbow tendons, leading to soreness and tenderness at either the inner or outer elbow.
Other key symptoms include:
- Swelling/inflammation of the elbow
- Difficulty swinging or throwing normally
- Stiffness in the elbow joint
- Tingling or burning sensation
- Weakness in the hand, wrist, or arm
How are medial and lateral epicondylitis diagnosed?
A doctor can usually diagnose medial and lateral epicondylitis from a physical examination of the forearm, elbow, and wrist. They may also feel and move your arm to identify sources of pain or tenderness. The doctor will also ask about your regular physical activity and injuries to determine if the injury could have arisen from overuse.
In some cases, an X-ray may be ordered to rule out possible bone injuries or an MRI to more precisely pinpoint tendon injuries.
How are medial and lateral epicondylitis treated?
Medial and lateral epicondylitis can often be treated with a variety of conservative, non-surgical treatments. Here are some of the most common:
- Rest and avoid additional strain of the forearm and elbow
- Physical therapy exercises that stretch and strengthen the injured muscles and tendons
- Anti-inflammatory medications to relieve pain and swelling
- Applying ice to the injured arm to relieve inflammation
- Wearing a brace around the injured elbow can help support and heal the damaged tendons
- Steroid injections can help relieve pain and inflammation
In more severe cases, surgery may be necessary to help the damaged tendon heal properly. A common procedure is called a medial or lateral epicondylar release. In this procedure, an orthopedic surgeon makes an incision in the injured forearm, removes the damaged portion of the tendon, and then reattaches the tendon to the bone to allow it to heal normally.
Surgery to repair damaged tendons from golfer’s or tennis elbow can sometimes be performed arthroscopically, which means a surgeon makes several small incisions through which they insert a camera to help them repair the injury with small instruments. In other cases, open surgery may be recommended, which requires a single, larger incision.
Treating medial and lateral epicondylitis at Midwest Orthopaedic Consultants
Medial and lateral epicondylitis can get in your way of doing what you love. Our team of orthopedic specialists and surgeons are ready to get you back on the field or on the court. At Midwest Orthopaedic Consultants, you can expect compassionate, innovative care that can help relieve the pain that has been holding you back.
If you are suffering from symptoms of medial and lateral epicondylitis, book an appointment with us today!
Only a doctor can tell you if you have this ailment. This is for informational purposes and should not be used in lieu of a doctor’s opinion.