Ultrasonographic Characteristics of the Common Extensor Tendon of the Elbow in Asymptomatic Individuals: Thickness, Color Doppler Activity, and Bony Spurs

Thøger Persson Krogh, Ulrich Fredberg, Christian Ammitzbøl, Torkell Ellingsen

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BACKGROUND: Ultrasonography (US) of the common extensor tendon (CET) of the elbow is often part of the assessment of patients with lateral epicondylitis. This US assessment is currently based on general tendinopathy references and not well-defined US entities.

PURPOSE: To describe CET thickness, color Doppler activity, and bony spurs on US in asymptomatic volunteers and to investigate the influence of sex, age, height, body mass index (BMI), weight, and elbow dominance on the measurements.

STUDY DESIGN: Cross-sectional study; Level of evidence, 3.

METHODS: Tendon thickness, color Doppler activity, and bony spurs of the CET were measured sonographically in 264 adults (50% women) aged 20 to 96 years. Two different tendon-thickness measuring techniques were applied, labeled the "plateau measure" and the "1-cm measure." Color Doppler activity was based on a 0 to 4 rating scale (negative, grades 0 and 1; positive, grades 2-4). A bony spur was defined as a bony outgrowth (≥0.3 mm) arising at the insertional site of the CET.

RESULTS: With both tendon-thickness measuring techniques, the CET in the dominant elbow was thicker than that in the nondominant elbow, and male tendons were thicker than female tendons (all P ≤ .03). In regression analysis, tendon thickness correlated with weight, color Doppler activity, and arm dominance for both measuring techniques in multiple regression analysis. In addition, the plateau measure correlated with height and the presence of bony spurs. No correlations were observed regarding BMI, sex, or age. Positive color Doppler activity was found in 9% of examined elbows, with no difference between the sexes regarding dominant versus nondominant elbows (all P ≥.20). Bony spurs were found to increase with age, from 23% for people in their 20s to 74% in people older than 70 years. Bony spurs were more common in the dominant elbow (P ≤ .01). Women had a higher prevalence of bony spurs than men, but only in the dominant elbow (P = .03).

CONCLUSION: This study presents the US characteristics and normal values of the CET. In 264 asymptomatic participants, the CET was found to be thicker in men and in the dominant elbow. No difference in tendon thickness could be demonstrated with regard to different age groups. Color Doppler activity was found to be positive in nearly 1 of 10 asymptomatic subjects. Bony spurs were a common finding; they increased in prevalence with every decade in age and were considered part of the aging process. Normal variations in CET morphologic characteristics should therefore be considered when implementing US in trials and clinical practice.

Original languageEnglish
Article number2325967117704186
JournalOrthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine
Issue number5
Number of pages10
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • Journal Article


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