The purpose of this study was to evaluate MR imaging findings of the common extensor tendon in patients with lateral epicondylitis and asymptomatic volunteers studied on a 0.2-T dedicated system. In 23 patients (age range 29-58 years, mean age 47 years) with clinical symptoms of lateral epicondylitis MR imaging was performed using T1-, T2- and contrast-enhanced T1-weighted spin-echo sequences. In addition, the elbows of seven healthy volunteers (age range 22-29 years, mean age 25 years) and the symptom-free contralateral elbow of 11 of the 23 patients (age range 29-58 years, mean age 47 years) were studied as controls. Five patients were surgically treated after the MR examination and the results of histopathology were correlated with MR findings. Of the patients, 95.6 % showed intratendinous signal intensity changes on T1-weighted images on the symptomatic side. In 69.6 % signal alterations were observed on T2-weighted sequences and in 56.5 % an intratendinous contrast enhancement was present. Histopathology showed fibrovascular proliferation and fatty degeneration in patients with distinct signal intensity changes and contrast enhancement. Patients with only minor signal intensity changes on T1- and T2-weighted sequences and no contrast enhancement demonstrated fibrosclerotic degeneration and intratendinous cartilage formation in histopathology. The contralateral elbow showed signal intensity changes in 6 of 11 (54.5 %) cases on T1-weighted images and in 3 of 11 (27.3 %) on T2-weighted images. In the group of healthy volunteers minor signal intensity changes of the common extensor tendon could be seen in only 1 case. In patients with lateral epicondylitis of the elbow the type and extent of pathologic changes within the common extensor tendon can be evaluated using a dedicated low-field MR system. On the basis of MR imaging findings a more specified therapy planning among the variety of treatment modalities can be achieved.