I played tennis throughout high school and college and prided myself on developing a little muscle bulge in each forearm, near the elbow, that my brother dubbed “the egg.” He has one in each forearm, too. With a little help from my friend the Trail Guide to the Body, I now believe I can properly identify “the egg” as the extensor carpi radialis longus. Let’s dive into a little anatomy lesson, and from there we’ll also consider some problems that can arise within the forearm and the elbow.
The forearm contains various muscles responsible for creating movement at the wrist and fingers, and the crowded muscle bellies and tendons can be challenging to isolate. So how do I know which one is my egg? Well, when I want to show off my egg, I bend my elbow, kink my wrist to the thumb side of my hand, and also bend at the wrist to bring the back of my hand closer to the hairy side of my forearm. The egg appears right near the outside of my elbow crease, just above the bony landmark on the outside of my elbow. In more sophisticated terms, then, my egg must be a muscle on the posterior/lateral surface of the forearm with a potentially large belly situated above the lateral epicondyle of the humerus that contracts upon extension and abduction (radial deviation) of the wrist and may also assist in flexion of the elbow.
The extensor carpi radialis longus fits the bill. As the name suggests, this muscle extends the carpals (wrist joint), travels along the radial side of the arm, and is quite long. It originates from the lateral side of the humerus (distal one-third of the lateral supracondylar ridge) and attaches to the base of the second metacarpal bone (metacarpal of the index finger). Together with other extensors of the wrist, the extensor carpi radialis longus stabilizes the wrist during gripping motions, preventing flexion.
So that’s cool….I figured out a name for a specific muscle bulge feature thing in my forearm. The Yoga Tune Up® world has introduced me to how fun it is to know some anatomy and some muscle names. But the real take-away here is that, whether you are interested in the forearm or any other area of the body, once you dive in to learn more by, say, consulting the information and diagrams and pictures provided by a resource like the Trail Guide to the Body, you realize how much is there, how complex it all is, and how amazing the human body is.
The reality check – and what’s not so cool – is that the human body is not immune from injury. Let’s focus back in on the forearm and the elbow. An unfortunately common injury here is lateral epicondylitis, or inflammation of the tendon common to the origin of some of the extensor muscles on the outside of the elbow. Lateral epicondylitis is also known as “tennis elbow.” Ah, tennis. Yet this is an injury that is certainly not limited to tennis players. And while our newly identified extensor carpi radialis longus muscle can be a player in tennis elbow trouble, it is far from the only potential problem child.
In this case, knowing the name for something – tendonitis, or tennis elbow – is not quite so fun or enlightening. The term itself tells us nothing about (i) why you might have problems when another person doesn’t, even when doing the same volume and intensity of activity, or (ii) why you were fine with these same activities a year ago, but now they are creating difficulties.
We’ll revisit this problem of pain and tightness in the elbow next time. Join me then to shed some light on why you may be having elbow problems and to learn some strategies for working through them or perhaps even preventing them from occurring at all.