Epicondylar injury in sport: epidemiology, type, mechanisms, assessment, management and prevention

Sports Med. 2006;36(2):151-70. doi: 10.2165/00007256-200636020-00005.


Epicondylar injuries in sports with overhead or repetitive arm actions are frequent and often severe. Acute injury that results in inflammation should be termed epicondylitis and is usually the result of large valgus forces with medial distraction and lateral compression. Epicondylosis develops over a longer period of time from repetitive forces and results in structural changes in the tendon. Epicondylalgia refers to elbow pain at either the medial or lateral epicondyl of the elbow related to tendinopathy of the common flexor or extensor tendon origins at these points. Pain is usually associated with gripping, resisted wrist extension and certain movements such as in tennis and golf, hence the common terms 'tennis elbow' (lateral epicondylsis) and 'golf elbow' (medial epicondylossi). A variety of assessment and diagnostic tools are available to aid the clinician in their comprehensive evaluation of the patient to ensure correct diagnosis and the appropriate conservative or surgical management strategy. Corticosteroids and elbow straps are often used for treatment; however, there is only very limited prospective clinical or experimental evidence for their effectiveness. The most effective modalities of treatment are probably rest (the absence of painful activity) combined with cryotherapy in the acute stage then NSAIDs and heat in its various modalities including ultrasound. Cortisone injections may be used to create a pain-free window of opportunity to optimise the athletes' rehabilitation exercises. Medical practitioners should have a good understanding of the mechanisms of injury in order to help treat and prevent the re-occurrence of injuries. More emphasis by medical and sport science personnel working with coaches and athletes needs to be placed on prevention of elbow injury in sport through improved joint strength, biomechanically sound sport technique and use of appropriate sport equipment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Physical Therapy Modalities
  • Tennis Elbow / epidemiology
  • Tennis Elbow / etiology
  • Tennis Elbow / therapy*