I have pain on the outside of my elbow when reaching for objects with my elbow extended. The pain increases if the object weighs more than a few pounds, such as a gallon of milk, a coffee pot or the laundry detergent. How did I get this pain?
The condition you are describing may be lateral epicondylitis, more commonly known as “tennis elbow.” The irony is that this overuse condition often occurs in non-tennis players from improper lifting and carrying of objects, or from performing activities that are highly repetitive in nature. The activities translate force to the outside of the elbow, causing inflammation and micro-tears in the tendon (see diagram below).
Dr. Noah Raizman answers your questions about Lateral Epicondylitis, sometimes known as tennis elbow.
Q: What is Lateral Epicondylitis, and is it the same thing as “Tennis Elbow?”
A: Lateral Epicondylitis and Tennis Elbow are one and the same. Lateral Epicondylitis is a painful condition caused by damage to the elbow where the tendons that extend your wrist and fingers originate from. That area is called the lateral epicondyle. Tendons attach muscle to bone. The primary muscle that allows your wrist to extend, the ECRB (extensor carpi radialis brevis), is usually the tendon involved.
Q: What causes it?
A: Lateral Epicondylitis can be caused by trauma, repetitive mild trauma and overuse, but truly, we are not sure why some people get it and others do not. We consider it a “tendinopathy of middle age” because it typically happens in patients in their 40s and 50s, though it can occur at any age. Sometimes it is due to sports activities like golf or racquet sports and sometimes from work activities, but, just as often, it seems to happen after lifting or carrying objects.
Q: What are the symptoms?
A: Lateral Epicondylitis typically includes symptoms such as pain over the outside (lateral) part of the elbow. There is typically no clicking, popping or feeling of instability. There typically is no pain over the back or inside of the elbow. The pain is worst with gripping, grasping and wringing activities and can be provoked by typing or using a computer mouse with the wrist extended. There is not usually any numbness or tingling associated with it.