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Epicondyle: Definition & Fracture

Instructor: Virginia Rawls

Virginia has a master' degree in Education and a bachelors in Sports Medicine/athletic Training

An epicondyle is more than just a fancy name. It is a specialized part of some of the bones found in the human body. This lesson explains what an epicondyle is, what a fracture is, and how a fracture can occur to an epicondyle.

The Role of Bones

Bones play a key role in supporting and moving our bodies. Without bones we would be a blob on the floor and would not be able to move the way we do. Thanks to the crafty way our bones are aligned and held together, we are able to walk, stand, sit, and bend while performing daily activities. But have you ever thought about how cool our bones really are?

Look at your fingers. See how there is a bump where your fingers meet your hand. This spot is called your 'knuckle'. Oddly enough, the word epicondyle literally means 'upon the knuckle'. An epicondyle looks very similar to a knuckle in your hand.

Definition of an Epicondyle

There are different types of bones in our bodies. One of those types is a long bone. A long bone is a bone that is longer than it is wide. Some examples of long bones are the femur (thigh bone), tibia (shin bone), humerus (bone in the upper arm), and ulna (bone in the forearm). Long bones are designed with areas that are smooth, bumpy, and even have areas that can be compared to hills and valleys. One of those hills is called an epicondyle.

An epicondyle is a place where tendons and ligaments attach to the bone. Please do not get this confused with a condyle…a completely different portion of a long bone. Muscles are tissues in the body that contract and relax to produce movement. Larger muscles attach to bones by a tendon, so tendons connect muscles to bones. Ligaments help attach bones to other bones.

This picture shows the humerus bone. This is the bone found in the upper arm. You can see that there are two epicondyles on the right and left at the bottom of the bone.

The humerus bone
humerus epicondyles

Since the epicondyle serves as a place for tendon and ligament attachment, it has a very important job. Any disturbance to the epicondyle could cause pain for the patient and lead to loss of function for the muscles and ligaments that attach at it.

Epicondyle Fractures

A fracture is a break in a bone. Any bone has the possibility of breaking, and fractures can happen for many reasons. Causes might include sports injuries, car accidents, falls, or old age. Fractures to the epicondyle typically occur for one of two reasons: muscles pull so hard on the tendon that the tendon actually pulls the epicondyle off of the bone, or the epicondyle breaks due to direct force on it in a fall or other accident.

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