Researchers Look for Causes of Tennis Elbow

Tennis elbow, or lateral epicondylitis, is a common injury among people who use their arms in a repetitive motion, particularly their wrists. Researchers have long thought that the cause of tennis elbow is microscopic tears in the tendons, the tissues that connect the muscles to the bones. The tears would then progress and cause tennis elbow.

The authors of this article studied the anatomy of the elbow to see if they could identify contact between bone and tendon or tendon and tendon together, which may cause some abrasion of the tissues.

The researchers gained access to 85 cadaveric elbows from 60 donors for this study. The donors were equally split between male and female; the average age of the donors at death was 73.6 years, but the range was from 53 to 83 years. None of the elbows showed any signs of old injuries or surgeries.

The elbows were dissected so the researchers could identify and measure the location of the tendons and bones. They measured elbow motion checking for tendon movement. The researchers also used dye to mark positioning of the tendons through motion.

After reviewing all the photos and data, the researchers determined that there could be considerable contact between soft tissue of the elbow and the bone that would cause irritation and abrasion to the tissues. They state in the article that they believe this might be a factor that leads to the development of tennis elbow.

The authors point out that such findings can help develop a surgical technique that could treat tennis elbow by cutting or removing the soft tissues that are rubbing on the bone.

References: Robert E. Bunata, MD, et al. Anatomic Factors Related to the Cause of Tennis Elbow. In The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery. September 2007. Vol. 89-A. No. 9. Pp. 1954-1963.