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Understanding Elbow Pain: Lateral and Medial Epicondylitis Explained

By Roger Sohn, MD

What is tennis or golfer’s elbow?

Do you have a sore elbow that just won't go away? You might be dealing with something called lateral epicondylitis, often called tennis elbow, or medial epicondylitis, sometimes known as golfer's elbow. Let's take a closer look at these conditions to understand what they are and what you can do about it.

What causes tennis or golfer’s elbow?

Lateral epicondylitis (tennis elbow) affects the outer portion of your elbow. Medial epicondylitis (golfer’s elbow) affects the inner portion of the elbow. These conditions happen when the tendons in your forearm get worn out from too much use. It can happen to anyone who uses their wrist or forearm a lot, not just tennis players! Many people think this condition is caused by inflammation. However, neither of these conditions is caused by inflammation, as research from Dr. Robert Nirschl showed over 2 decades ago*. Dr. Nirschl's important research tells us that lateral and medial epicondylitis are more about wear and tear on the tendons than inflammation. This is important to understand because it changes how we treat these problems and helps us find better ways to help you feel better.

Elbow Joint Epicondyles

How Do You Diagnose Tennis or Golfer’s Elbow?

If you have elbow pain, we can help to diagnose the cause. We do so by examining the elbow. Typical patterns of pain include point tenderness right over the epicondyle, where the tendons attach. Other hallmarks include pain with forceful extension or flexion of the wrist against resistance. We can also confirm the diagnosis by using ultrasound images. This can show any damage in the tendon fibers.

Why doesn’t this problem respond to medications?

Have you been wondering why your elbow keeps hurting even when you rest and take medicine? Let's talk about why that happens and what can be done about it. Many of the common pain relievers are anti-inflammatory medications. This would include Aleve, Motrin, and other popular drugs. Some doctors even inject cortisone which is the most powerful type of anti-inflammatory medication. The problem is that these drugs are great at treating inflammation, but tennis and golfer’s elbow are NOT caused by inflammation. In fact, there are many research studies that suggest that these types of drugs may make the problem last longer. We have found that the key to treating lateral and medial epicondylitis is to help the tendons heal. We use different treatments like special exercises or even some new medical techniques such as platelet rich plasma to help you get better.

Lateral Epicondylitis

Don't let elbow pain slow you down! If your elbow is bothering you, get in touch with us. We can help you know if you have lateral or medial epicondylitis and find the best way to help you feel strong again. Call us today to set up a time to talk about your elbow and what we can do to make it better. Let's work together to get you back to doing all the things you love without any pain. Schedule your appointment now and take the first step towards feeling great again!


To schedule a consultation, please call or contact Dr. Sohn's office, proudly serving the communities of San Juan Capistrano, Laguna Woods, Laguna Niguel, Dana Point, Mission Viejo, Irvine, San Clemente, and Fountain Valley.