People who perform manual labor or clerical work often develop repetitive motion injuries of the upper extremities. Injuries that affect the wrists and hands often get the most attention, but repetitive stress can also occur at the elbow and cause significant pain.
Tennis elbow is a colloquialism that applies to a repetitive motion injury also known by the scientific name of lateral epicondylitis. It can result from work activities, and not only in professional tennis players. A number of jobs require repetitive motions of the forearm that cause lateral epicondylitis.
What causes tennis elbow?
The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons identifies the cause of lateral epicondylitis as overuse of the extensor carpi radialis brevis muscle. When the elbow is straight, this muscle helps to keep the wrist stable. The ECRB connects to the elbow at the lateral epicondyle, with is a point just above the elbow joint on the outside of the upper arm. The tendon that connects the ECRB to the lateral epicondyle can form microscopic tears due to overuse of the muscle. This causes pain and inflammation at the lateral epicondyle.
What occupations put workers at risk?
According to the Mayo Clinic, lateral epicondylitis frequently affects workers who perform repetitive motions of the upper extremity that work the ECRB. Butchers, cooks, carpenters, painters and plumbers are all examples of workers who may develop lateral epicondylitis. However, clerical workers are also at risk due to computer work. It does not seem to be typing that provokes lateral epicondylitis but the use of the computer mouse. As a result, clerical workers may develop lateral epicondylitis only on one side.
A doctor may recommend work modifications to resolve lateral epicondylitis. These may include ergonomic equipment or a strap to relieve tension on the affected tissues during repetitive work.