What is it?
Elbow tendonitis is an inflammatory process that is occurring at the inside or outside of the elbow where a group of tendons insert onto the bone. Inflammation is often associated with significant pain and discomfort with even the most basic of daily activities. If untreated, it can often lead to a temporary limitation in the function of the involved arm.
The term Tennis Elbow is used to describe an inflammatory process that is occurring on the outside of the elbow. Muscles that extend your wrist and fingers converge to form one common tendon that inserts onto the outside of the elbow at a point called the lateral epicondyle. Tennis elbow is also known as “lateral epicondylitis” or inflammation of the lateral epicondyle.
When tendonitis occurs on the inside of the elbow it is known as Golfer’s Elbow. The inflammatory process that occurs is the same as tennis elbow but involves the common tendon of the muscles that bend your wrist and fingers. This tendon inserts on an area of the bone called the medial epicondyle. Therefore, golfer’s elbow is often called “medial epicondylitis”. Golfer’s elbow is not as common as tennis elbow but can be equally painful and debilitating.
Tennis elbow or Golfer’s elbow get their name because repetitive stress of a tennis stroke or a golf swing on the tendon can lead to tendonitis. Baseball pitchers are another group of athletes that often develop medial epicondylitis (golfer’s elbow) because throwing a baseball puts stress on the same tendon as a golf swing. But often, a person may not have any involvement in athletics and still develop tennis/golfer’s elbow. This is often due to a repetitive activity/activities in a person’s daily life that is stressing the tendon.
Tendonitis vs. Tendonosis
Tendonitis is a term to describe a current, short-term inflammatory process (i.e. acute) versus tendonosis, which is an ongoing, long-term problem (i.e. chronic). Tendonosis is generally an accumulation of injury to the tendon over time that never fully healed correctly. As a result, the tendon begins to thicken with scar tissue and does not receive adequate blood supply. Your doctor or physical therapist will work to diagnose your elbow pain as tendonitis or tendonosis and treat it accordingly.
Tennis and/or golfer’s elbow is generally treated with rest from the problematic activity. If this is not possible, patients are often given a specialized brace for their elbow that can help manage the pain. Patients are often referred to physical therapy where they are instructed in self-treatment of their elbow pain including home exercises, heating, icing, and activity modification. Many patients also benefit from manual physical therapy techniques including soft-tissue massage, joint mobilizations, dry needling techniques, or ultrasound guided PRP injections for long-standing tendinosis. Your physician and physical therapist will determine what type of treatment will be best for your recovery after an extensive musculoskeletal evaluation.