What is the common extensor tendon and lateral epicondylitis?

Answered by Willian Lymon

The common extensor tendon is a thick band of connective tissue that attaches the forearm muscles to the lateral epicondyle of the humerus. It is responsible for the extension of the wrist and fingers. This tendon is crucial for activities that involve gripping, lifting, and repetitive hand movements.

Lateral epicondylitis, commonly known as tennis elbow, is a condition characterized by inflammation of the common extensor tendon at the lateral epicondyle of the humerus. Despite its name, tennis elbow is not limited to tennis players and can affect anyone who repeatedly uses their forearm muscles.

The main muscle involved in tennis elbow is the extensor carpi radialis brevis (ECRB), which is responsible for extending and stabilizing the wrist. When this muscle is overused or subjected to repetitive stress, it can lead to microtears and degeneration of the tendon at its attachment point on the lateral epicondyle.

The exact cause of lateral epicondylitis is not fully understood, but it is often associated with activities that involve repetitive wrist extension and gripping. These can include not only playing tennis, but also other sports such as golf or racquetball, as well as occupations that require repetitive hand movements like painting, plumbing, or typing.

Symptoms of lateral epicondylitis typically include pain and tenderness on the outer side of the elbow, which may radiate down the forearm. The pain is often exacerbated by activities that involve gripping or lifting, and individuals may experience weakness in their grip strength. Simple tasks like shaking hands or turning a doorknob can become painful and challenging.

Diagnosis of tennis elbow is usually based on the individual’s symptoms and a physical examination. In some cases, imaging studies such as X-rays or MRI scans may be ordered to rule out other possible causes of elbow pain.

Treatment for lateral epicondylitis usually begins with conservative measures. Resting the affected arm and avoiding activities that exacerbate the symptoms can help to reduce inflammation and promote healing. Ice packs, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and over-the-counter pain medications may also provide relief.

Physical therapy is often recommended to strengthen the forearm muscles, improve flexibility, and correct any biomechanical issues that may contribute to the condition. Therapists may use techniques such as manual therapy, stretching exercises, and strengthening exercises to rehabilitate the affected area.

In more severe or persistent cases, a brace or splint may be prescribed to limit movement and provide support to the affected tendon. In rare cases where conservative measures fail to alleviate symptoms, corticosteroid injections or, as a last resort, surgical intervention may be considered.

Prevention of lateral epicondylitis involves avoiding repetitive stress on the forearm muscles and using proper techniques and equipment during activities that involve gripping or lifting. Warm-up exercises, stretching, and strengthening of the forearm muscles can also help to reduce the risk of developing tennis elbow.

The common extensor tendon is a vital structure that connects the forearm muscles to the lateral epicondyle of the humerus. Lateral epicondylitis, or tennis elbow, is an inflammation of this tendon often caused by repetitive stress or overuse. Understanding the causes, symptoms, and treatment options for this condition can help individuals manage and prevent tennis elbow effectively.