BACKGROUND: The pathogenesis of lateral epicondylitis remains unclear. Our purpose was to study the anatomy of the lateral aspect of the elbow under static and dynamic conditions in order to identify bone-to-tendon and tendon-to-tendon contact or rubbing that might cause abrasion of the tissues.
METHODS: Eighty-five cadaveric elbows were examined to determine details related to the bone structure and musculotendinous origins. We identified the relative positions of the musculotendinous units and the underlying bone when the elbow was in different degrees of flexion. We also recorded the contact between the extensor carpi radialis brevis and the lateral edge of the capitellum as elbow motion occurred, and we sought to identify the areas of the capitellum and extensor carpi radialis brevis where contact occurs.
RESULTS: The average site of origin of the extensor carpi radialis brevis on the humerus lay slightly medial and superior to the outer edge of the capitellum. As the elbow was extended, the undersurface of the extensor carpi radialis brevis rubbed against the lateral edge of the capitellum while the extensor carpi radialis longus compressed the brevis against the underlying bone.
CONCLUSIONS: The extensor carpi radialis brevis tendon has a unique anatomic location that makes its undersurface vulnerable to contact and abrasion against the lateral edge of the capitellum during elbow motion.
Diagnosis: Lateral epicondyle
Outcome: “As the elbow is extended, the undersurface of the extensor carpi radialis brevis rubbed against the lateral edge of the capitellum while the extensor carpi radialis longus compressed the brevis against the underlying bone.” “Dramatic bowing and stretching of the tendons over the epicondyle and the capitellum occur with the elbow in full extension.” “…we believe this wear leads to tendon abrasion and is the initial step in the cause of tennis elbow.”
Subjects: 85 cadaver elbows.
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Chad Reilly is a Physical Therapist, obtaining his Master’s in Physical Therapy from Northern Arizona University. He graduated Summa Cum Laude with a B.S. Exercise Science also from NAU. He is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, and holds a USA Weightlifting Club Coach Certification as well as a NASM Personal Training Certificate. Chad completed his Yoga Teacher Training at Sampoorna Yoga in Goa, India.