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What is Epicondylitis?

By Emma Lloyd
Updated May 17, 2024
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Epicondylitis is chronic inflammation which develops in an epicondyle of the elbow. An epicondyle is a rounded bone structure which is part of a joint, and has an associated muscle attached. There are two types of epicondyle-related elbow inflammation: lateral epicondylitis, also called tennis elbow, and medial epicondylitis, or golfer’s elbow. These conditions are similar, but are the result of two different types of repetitive motion.

Epicondyle inflammation is a type of sports injury which is classified as a chronic or cumulative overuse injury. This type of injury develops as a result of repetitive trauma and stress to a particular part of the body. Chronic injury and inflammation develops because repetitive motion causes tiny tears in a muscle, and the injury is not given enough time to heal before the muscles are used again. In the case of tennis elbow or golfer’s elbow, the damage is done to one of the epicondyles of the elbow.

Tennis elbow and golfer’s elbow are very similar conditions, both caused by chronic overuse of the elbow joint. The main difference between these two sports injuries is the epicondyle which is affected. In tennis elbow it is the lateral epicondyle, located on the outside of the elbow, which is injured. In golfer’s elbow the injury is sustained on the medial epicondyle, located on the inside of the elbow.

Both types of epicondylitis cause similar symptoms and patterns of symptom progression, differing only in the origin of the pain. Tennis elbow and golfer’s elbow both lead to the development of elbow pain which is slight at first, but may progress to severe pain if the injury is not given time to heal. As the inflammation progresses, the pain may begin to radiate from the elbow down the arm towards the wrist. People with this chronic elbow inflammation may have difficulty picking up or holding objects.

Epicondylitis is caused by overuse of the elbow joint; therefore the simplest and most effective treatment is to rest the joint and allow it time to heal. The R.I.C.E. method of sports injury management, which is comprised of rest, ice, compression, and elevation, is useful for treating this condition. Limiting use of the elbow, and discontinuing sports practice, is the most important treatment. Icing the joint in fifteen minute sessions several times a day, and wrapping the elbow to help protect the muscles, are also useful treatments.

If the damage is severe, physical therapy may be used to help repair the damage. Physical therapy can be used to strengthen the muscles and improve flexibility once they have begun healing. Medication is not usually required for healing, but anti-inflammatory drugs may be needed for pain management.

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Discussion Comments
By anon87225 — On May 28, 2010

I really don't know if I have this or not. I've had this elbow cracking problem since I was like six years old or something and now I'm 14.

I really am worried, but i don't know if it's a problem or not. Some people tell me I'll get arthritis when I'm older. Some say i won't. It's only in my left elbow and it repeatedly cracks over and over again. Should I see a doctor or what? It doesn't hurt at all. If this happens to you too, please reply.

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