Purpose: Chronic lateral epicondylitis remains a treatment challenge. Traditional surgical treatments for lateral epicondylitis involve variations of the classic Nirschl lateral release. Anatomic studies reveal that the posterior branch or branches of the posterior cutaneous nerve of the forearm consistently innervate the lateral humeral epicondyle. We undertook the present study to determine the effectiveness of denervation of the lateral humeral epicondyle in treating chronic lateral epicondylitis. Methods: An institutional review board-approved prospective study included 30 elbows in 26 patients. Inclusion criteria included failure to respond to nonoperative treatment for more than 6 months and improvement in grip strength and in visual analog pain scale after diagnostic nerve block of the posterior branches of the posterior cutaneous nerve of the forearm proximal to the lateral humeral epicondyle. We excluded patients who had undergone previous surgery for lateral epicondylitis. Outcome measures included visual analog pain scale and grip strength testing. Denervation surgery involved identification and transection of the posterior cutaneous nerve of the forearm branches with implantation into the triceps. The presence of radial tunnel syndrome was noted but did not affect inclusion criteria; if it was present, we did not correct it surgically. We used no postoperative splinting and permitted immediate return to activities of daily living. Results: At a mean of 28 months of follow-up, the average visual analog scale score decreased from 7.9 to 1.9. Average grip strength with the elbow extended improved from 13 to 24 kg. A total of 80% of patients had good or excellent results, as defined by an improvement of 5 or more points on the visual analog scale for pain. Conclusions: Denervation of the lateral epicondyle was effective in relieving pain in 80% of patients with chronic lateral epicondylitis who had a positive response to a local anesthetic block of the posterior branches of the posterior cutaneous nerve of the forearm. Radial nerve compression syndromes must be evaluated as a confounding source of symptoms and may require additional treatment in patients who fail to improve with denervation alone. Type of study/level of evidence: Therapeutic IV.
- lateral epicondylitis
- tennis elbow
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Orthopedics and Sports Medicine