Epicondylitis is an overuse injury of the elbow. When the lateral (outside) structures are affected the condition is more commonly known as Tennis Elbow (or lateral epicondylitis) and when medial (inside) structures are affected it is known as Golfer’s Elbow (no prizes for guessing this is medial epicondylitis).
What is Epicondylitis and why does it happen?
The main difference between medial and lateral epicondylitis is which specific structures around the elbow suffer from overuse, injury or irritation.
Lateral – the main area of concern are the extensors muscles of the hand which attach to the lateral epicondyle (a bony attachment at the elbow). These muscles are responsible for rotating the forearm so that the palm is face up and in tennis (or other racket sports) are constantly used when hitting the ball.
Medial – the point where flexor muscles (which bend the wrist downwards) attach is the medial epicondyle. It is this attachment which becomes tender and painful in golf players, again through repetitive actions.
Despite the common name for these conditions, it is not just racket sports or golf which can lead to them – any action which is repetitive and causes overuse in these structures could be the precipitating factors. Because the muscles which flex your fingers attach at the medial epicondyle, this condition is also common amongst anyone using their grip constantly, for example, rock climbers.
How is it treated?
Both conditions require very similar treatment, initially following the RICE protocol, and perhaps a period of no aggravating activity or a significant reduction at least. If there is swelling present then lymphatic drainage away from the painful area can be very helpful in promoting quicker healing. Applying kinesiology tape can also help with lymphatic drainage and dry needling can promote healing by stimulating collagen formation.
Once you’ve recovered it would then be a good idea to have your technique looked at, checking for any areas of concern. Muscle strengthening is also a way to get things underway in a positive manner – stronger muscles mean there is less likelihood of re-injury.
Can Sports Massage help?
Yes, it can. Sports Massage can help to reduce and manage pain by releasing any tension or adhesions within the affected muscles and soft tissues. The aim of treatment is to take you from the acute stage back to full fitness. We have sound knowledge of how injured structures heal and the interventions which are possible right from the early stages of injury (see our What can we do for injury? series of articles). Don’t therefore dismiss treatment at the early stage as could help speed up your recovery.