Upper limb muscle imbalance in tennis elbow: a functional and electromyographic assessment

J Orthop Res. 2007 Dec;25(12):1651-7. doi: 10.1002/jor.20458.


The purpose of this study was to investigate strength, fatigability, and activity of upper limb musculature to elucidate the role of muscular imbalance in the pathophysiology of tennis elbow. Sixteen patients clinically diagnosed with tennis elbow, recruited from a university hospital upper limb orthopedic clinic, were compared with 16 control subjects with no history of upper limb musculoskeletal problem, recruited from university students and staff. Muscle strength was measured for grip, metacarpophalangeal, wrist, and shoulder on both sides. Electromyographic activity (RMS amplitude) and fatigue characteristics (median frequency slope) of five forearm and two shoulder muscles were measured during isometric contraction at 50% maximum voluntary contraction. All strength measurements showed dominance difference in C, but none in TE. In tennis elbow compared to controls, hand/wrist and shoulder strength and extensor carpi radialis (ECR) activity were reduced (p < 0.05), while fatigue was normal. A global upper limb weakness exists in tennis elbow. This may be due to disuse and deconditioning syndrome caused by fear avoidance, and needs to be addressed in prevention and treatment. Activation imbalance among forearm muscles (reduced extensor carpi radialis activity) in tennis elbow, probably due to protective pain-related inhibition, could lead to a widespread upper limb muscle imbalance.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Electromyography
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Muscle Fatigue / physiology*
  • Muscle Strength / physiology*
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiopathology*
  • Tennis Elbow / physiopathology*
  • Upper Extremity / physiopathology*