Lateral Epicondylitis: A Common Cause of Elbow Pain in Primary Care
Lateral epicondylitis (LE) is an overuse injury of the lateral elbow. LE is caused by repetitive motion leading to micro-injury of the wrist extensor muscles that originate along the elbow's lateral aspect. Although LE is commonly referred to as “tennis elbow” many cases are observed in non-athletes. Due to its prevalence in the general population, primary care physicians must be prepared to diagnose and treat LE. Physicians should look for a history of repetitive activities involving patient’s jobs or recreational activities. Exam findings are characterized by pain and tenderness just distal to the lateral epicondyle of the humerus. Resisted movement with an extension of the wrist will typically elicit pain. Ultrasonography is considered the imaging modality of choice for diagnosing LE. Standard radiographs and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may be helpful. However, diagnosis can usually be made by history and physical examination alone. Most cases of LE respond favorably to conservative therapy. There are several nonoperative options for treatment, but a combination of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and physical therapy that utilizes eccentric muscle stretching is considered first-line. Osteopathic manipulative medicine is also useful in the treatment of LE. Muscle energy (ME) and joint mobilization techniques have been shown to be particularly effective. If non-surgical therapy fails, surgical intervention may provide patients with an additional benefit. This article will review some of the treatment options described above and discuss other diagnostic and therapeutic considerations relevant to LE's management in the primary care setting.