Objective: The purpose of this study was to describe the sonographic appearance of the common extensor origin in cadavers and asymptomatic volunteers, and to relate this appearance to the findings in patients with lateral epicondylitis.
Subjects and methods: Seventy-two elbows in 71 patients with lateral epicondylitis were examined on sonography. Most of the patients (60/71) gave a history of repetitive microtrauma. The injuries were evaluated with respect to location and severity. Focal areas of degeneration, discrete cleavage tears, and involvement of the lateral collateral ligament were identified. Calcification and bony changes were noted. The appearance of the normal common extensor tendon was described, and cadaveric specimens were dissected. Twenty-one patients subsequently underwent surgery.
Results: The normal common extensor origin is composed of longitudinal fibrils bound closely with the extensor carpi radialis brevis constituting most of the deep fibers, with the extensor digitorum making up the superficial part. The lateral collateral ligament can be identified as a discrete and separate band. The most common appearance of lateral epicondylitis is a focal hypoechoic area in the deep part of the tendon (46/72). These focal areas were identified at surgery and corresponded histologically to collagen degeneration with fibroblastic proliferation. Often discrete cleavage planes traversing the tendon were manifest as partial (18/72) and complete (2/72) tears. The lateral collateral ligament was involved in eight of 72 elbows.
Conclusion: Sonography of the common extensor origin can be used to confirm lateral epicondylitis in patients with lateral elbow pain and provide information about the severity of the disease.