Primary Care in Rochester and Kasson

Epicondylitis: Getting back to moving

7/27/2020 by Chelsea Harstad, PA-C


As the weather is warming up and people are becoming more active, overuse injuries can be more common. A frequent complaint following overuse or repetitive action is elbow pain. 

The best way to understand this elbow pain is that there are two main muscle groups in the forearm that control the actions of the wrist and fingers. 

  • Bending the wrist and fingers uses the muscles that attach on the epicondyle on the inside (medial) of your elbow.  
  • Bringing the wrist up and straightening the fingers uses muscles that attach on the bony prominence (epicondyle) on the outside or thumb side (lateral) of the elbow.

Repeatedly moving your wrist and/or fingers in the same motion or activity can cause inflammation and irritation over the epicondyle, resulting in pain. Common causes of epicondylitis include: golfing, tennis, painting, cooking, gripping tools, or riding a bike. Most often the pain starts slowly over weeks to months. The pain is generally worse with activity, may radiate towards your hand, and result in the feeling of some weakness with use of the hand. 

Most people improve with home treatments. Initial treatments include: 

  • Rest. Avoid any activity that worsens your symptoms.
  • NSAIDs. If you tolerate and are approved to take anti-inflammatories such as ibuprofen, they can help decrease the pain and inflammation. Tylenol can help with the pain but does not have the NSAIDs added benefit of being anti-inflammatory. 
  • Bracing. Using an elbow counter brace during activity can take pressure off the irritated area. 
  • Ice. Ice massage to the painful area can decrease pain and inflammation. 

If after a few weeks your symptoms are still not improving, contact your provider for further evaluation and consideration of additional treatment options. 

Some things to remember as you return to activities: 

  • Start slowly. 
  • If symptoms redevelop, stop and restart treatment. 

Chelsea Harstad, PA-C, is a physician assistant in Mayo Clinic in Rochester's Department of Orthopedics. She focuses on the care of patients with complex shoulder reconstruction and shoulder tendon transfers.