Follow along as sports medicine specialist, Kyle Sochacki, M.D., discusses lateral and medial epicondylitis, more commonly referred to as tennis elbow and golfer’s elbow. Dr. Sochacki explains what causes tennis elbow and golfer’s elbow, the symptoms patients report, how these conditions are diagnosed and treated, as well as the post-surgical recovery process. 




What Causes Lateral and Medial Epicondylitis?

  • Repeated overuse or stress on the tendons 
  • These conditions can occur in recreational and competitive athletes, as well as laborers and office workers who perform the same upper extremity motions repeatedly over an extended period
  • Examples include swinging a hammer, typing on a keyboard, or shoveling the driveway
  • Most cases occur in people between the ages of 30-60 

 

What are the Symptoms of Lateral and Medial Epicondylitis?

  • Elbow pain that worsens with wrist and forearm motion 
  • Pain or weakness when gripping, making participation in sports or everyday activities more difficult 
  • Patients with tennis elbow (lateral epicondylitis) experience symptoms along the outside of the elbow
  • Patients with golfer's elbow (medial epicondylitis) experience symptoms along the inside of the elbow 
  • Patients with golfer's elbow may also have numbness in their hands or fingers as a result of ulnar nerveirritation 

 

How is Lateral and Medial Epicondylitis Diagnosed?

  • Elbow radiographs and x-rays are typically the first tests used to diagnose these conditions 
  • If the doctor suspects a tear in the tendon or if the patient's symptoms do not improve with conservative treatment, the doctor may order an MRI or ultrasound 

 

What are the Treatment Options for Lateral and Medial Epicondylitis?

Approximately 80%-90% of tennis elbow and golfer's elbow patients can return to sports and daily activities using one or a combination of the following conservative treatment options. 

  • Rest 
  • Activity modification
  • Bracing
  • Physical therapy 
  • Home exercises 
  • Medication (such as oral anti-inflammatories) 
  • Steroid injections 
  • Orthobiologics 

 

Surgical procedures are reserved for patients with moderate to severe tendon degeneration or tendon tears. Lateral epicondylitis surgery and medial epicondylitis surgery are outpatient procedures, during which the surgeon removes the diseased portion of the tendon and reattaches the tendon to its natural location on the medial or lateral epicondyle. 

 

What is the Recovery Time for Lateral and Medial Epicondylitis?

  • Patients must wear a brace for six weeks following surgery 
  • Most patients begin physical therapy two weeks after surgery 
  • Patients can typically begin sports-related training three months after surgery, with a full return to sports and all other activities four months after surgery

 Surgical patients are usually highly satisfied with their outcomes and see significant improvement in pain levels and upper extremity functionality.