Causes of Epicondylitis

There are three broad areas that can lead to an incidence of epicondylitis – overuse, age and activities.

Overuse – Both lateral and medial epicondylitis are caused by the overuse or the repetitive use of the muscles and tendons that control the forearm, wrist and fingers. The pain can be exacerbated by poor conditioning of the muscles and also the lack of a suitable warm up prior to an at risk activity.

Age – There is an increased risk of a person developing epicondylitis if they are between the ages of 30 – 50 years old. There is no distinction in epicondylitis causation based upon whether a person is male or female.

Activities – There are certain activities that will increase the risk of a person developing epicondylitis. In the case of lateral epicondylitis (tennis elbow) a number of racquet sports can be high risk activities. It is believed that 5 in 100 tennis players will develop the condition over their playing career. Unsurprisingly, medial epicondylitis (golfers elbow) is also prevalent amongst golfers in the sense that gripping and swinging a golf club incorrectly can place a high stress on the muscles and tendons around the elbow.

For more detailed causes of each type of epicondylitis see the bullet points below.

Causes of lateral epicondylitis (tennis elbow)

A non-exhaustive list of the activities or reasons that can contribute to the development of tennis elbow include –

  • Playing racket sports such as tennis, squash, racquetball, or badminton.
  • Using incorrect racket sport equipment such as rackets that are too large or small, too heavy or incorrectly stringed.
  • Bad striking technique when playing racquet sports (mishitting the ball and the shock that goes through your arm from the mishit has been shown to cause early onset tennis elbow).
  • Weight lifters have been known to develop tennis elbow due to the stress being placed upon the tendons.
  • An inherent weakness in the shoulder, wrist and elbow muscles and tendons.
  • Being in the at risk age group of 30 – 50 years old.
  • Receiving a blow, sudden pull or extension to the epicondyle can cause the injury.

Lateral epicondylitis can also be prevalent among workers in the following professions or hobby areas –

  • Cookery
  • Carpentry
  • Dentistry
  • Knitting
  • Mechanics
  • Musicians
  • Painting
  • Plumbing
  • Typing

Essentially, it needs to be remembered that a person could potentially be at risk of developing lateral epicondylitis if they undertake an activity that will involve the overuse or repetitive, strenuous use of the muscles and tendons in the forearm.

Causes of medial epicondylitis (golfers elbow)

The causes of medial epicondylitis are broadly similar to those that cause lateral epicondylitis, even though you are 20% less likely to suffer from golfers elbow than tennis elbow.

Activities that could lead to golfers elbow include –

  • Incorrectly gripping, swinging and striking whilst playing golf.
  • Racket sports can cause golfer elbow particularly if the sport is played strenuously over long periods of time.
  • Other sports where the elbow is extended back and too such as archery and throwing sports like baseball or javelin can cause the injury
  • Overdoing weightlifting can cause medial epicondylitis.

A profession that requires the regular flexing of the elbow joint such as painting, woodcutting, factory assembly line work, computer or typing work, cookery and other similar jobs are in the higher risk category of a worker developing golfers elbow.

If you are in anyway concerned that you may have epicondylitis or in the early stages of the injury, you would be well advised to seek the attention of a medical professional.