What’s the Difference Between Lateral Epicondylitis and Medial Epicondylitis?
Just because you’ve never played a round of golf or a tennis match doesn’t mean that you’re immune from these elbow injuries. Although tennis elbow (lateral epicondylitis) and golfer’s elbow (medial epicondylitis) can be and often are the result of their respective sports, they are both overuse injuries that can be caused by any activity that requires repetitive motion of the arm and wrist. But how do you know which condition you have? In this blog the orthopedic specialists at Mirza Orthopedics will explain the difference between lateral epicondylitis and medial epicondylitis.
What is lateral epicondylitis?
Lateral epicondylitis is most commonly seen in adults, especially those between 30 and 50. It occurs due to overuse and strain on the muscles of your forearm, as a result of which the tendons attaching to the outside of your elbow become inflamed. As the common name—tennis elbow—suggests, many people seeking lateral epicondylitis treatment are tennis players, whose forehand and backhand strokes take a toll on the muscles of their outer forearms. However, you don’t have to be a tennis player to get tennis elbow. Any activity that forces you to overuse these muscles can have the same result.
What are the symptoms of lateral epicondylitis?
Put simply: lateral epicondylitis causes pain. The pain is primarily focused in the elbow, but may radiate down into your forearm and wrist. This may be felt as a constant dull ache in your elbow, or you may only feel it when you make certain motions such as lifting, reaching, or grabbing something. Lateral epicondylitis may hurt when you lift, grip things (such as a tennis racquet) or make a fist. Raising your hand or straightening your wrist may be cause pain. In some cases, even turning a doorknob or shaking hands may be painful.
What is medial epicondylitis?
Medial epicondylitis—golfer’s elbow—similar to lateral epicondylitis but affects the inner side of your elbow and forearm (“lateral” means toward the outside of your body, so the outside of your elbow is the lateral side, while “medial” means toward the middle. The inner side of your elbow is the medial side.) It too is a repetitive strain injury, and can be caused by any activity requiring you to repeatedly twist or flex your wrist and often happens as a result of activities such as gardening, pitching a ball, or shoveling.
What are the symptoms of medial epicondylitis?
Again, the primary symptom is pain. In this case, it’s pain on the inside of your elbow. This will probably be worst when you lift your wrist or hand, make a fist, or twist your forearm. The inner side of your elbow may be tender to the touch or even slightly swollen. If you’ve had the problem for some time, you may also find that your elbow is becoming stiff or weak.
Symptoms of medial epicondylitis include:
- Pain and/or tenderness on the inside of your upper arm, near your elbow
- Pain that extends down the inner side of your forearm
- Pain or discomfort when you make a fist
- Weakness in your elbow, hand, or wrist
- Stiffness in your elbow
- Numbness and/or tingling in your pinky or ring finger
What’s the difference between lateral epicondylitis and medial epicondylitis?
Both of these conditions are repetitive strain injuries caused by any activity requiring you to perform the same arm and wrist motions over and over. The primary difference between them is the part of the elbow affected. Tennis elbow affects the lateral or “out” side, while golfer’s elbow affects the medial or “in” side.
What are the treatments for lateral epicondylitis and medial epicondylitis?
Most cases of epicondylitis—whether lateral or medial—respond well to conservative treatment. In the case of tennis elbow, these may include:
- Resting the injured elbow
- Using ice to reduce inflammation
- Anti-inflammatory medications
- Use of a brace, centered over the back of your forearm, to reduce strain on the tendons
- Stretching and strengthening exercises
- Wearing a brace centered over the back of your forearm
- Platelet-rich plasma (PRP) therapy
You may also need to change your form if you’re a tennis player, or modify your activities or work to reduce the stress on the injured tendons.
For golfer’s elbow, conservative treatment may also include:
- Wearing a splint to minimize strain on the tendons
- Steroid injections to reduce inflammation
In either condition, if your symptoms don’t respond to conservative treatments in six months, than surgery may be an option.
Where can I find treatment for lateral and medial epicondylitis on Long Island?
If you’re suffering from the symptoms of medial or lateral epicondylitis, the first step toward relieving your discomfort is a consultation with our Smithtown orthopedic practice. We specialize in these treatments.
You don’t have to live with elbow pain. Contact Mirza Orthopedics today to schedule an appointment.