What is it?
This term constitutes damage caused by repetitive movement to any of the tissues surrounding the elbow joint; excessive flexion-extension motion can stress the muscles, tendons and ligaments that act to stabilize the elbow joint. These injuries often occur over time, and make the tissues vulnerable to further aggravation. Tennis elbow and golfer’s elbow are the most commonly recognised examples of overuse injuries.
Why does it occur?
These injuries are commonly seen in those regularly engage in specific sporting, recreational or occupational activities. Young athletes involved in racket sports, throwing, weight lifting and golf are all at risk due to the repetitive flexion-extension movements these activities demand. The continued strain leads to microtears in the tissue, chronic inflammation, and the formation of painful scar tissue.
What are the symptoms?
Many patients notice that pain is associated with a particular movement of the elbow. The site of concern will depend on the structures affected, but swelling and tenderness are often. Some patients have associated neurological symptoms, such as weakness and altered sensation in the arm.
How is it diagnosed?
Your consultant will need to take a thorough medical history, and examine the affected elbow to establish which movements bring on the pain. By assessing the range of motion, muscle strength and sensation, your consultant will build a picture as to which structures are affected. Further imaging will possibly be required, including an x-ray to establish whether there is any bony malalignment, and CT or MRI scans to give your consultant a clear view of the internal structures of the elbow. In cases where nerve compression is suspected, we can carry out a conduction study to investigate for symptoms of muscle weakness or altered sensation.
How is it treated?
The majority of conditions will settle down with a combination of rest, ice and anti-inflammatory medication over the course of 2 to 3 weeks. Reducing aggravating factors by changing certain lifestyle habits and focused physiotherapy are also known to be beneficial.
Surgical intervention is reserved for very few cases which do not respond to other forms of treatment. The specific procedure will depend on the diagnosis, and could be open surgery or arthroscopy (keyhole), to remove or repair affected structures surrounding the joint.
The One Orthopaedics team specialists
Consultant Orthopaedic Specialist FRCS (Tr & Orth)