Lateral epicondylitis, better known as tennis elbow, is a condition where the tendons connecting the muscle of the forearm to the elbow become irritated or sprained. Most often, it is caused by repetitive gestures in the arm and wrists.
Rather than being an inflammatory issue, tennis elbow seems to be the result of degenerative muscle changes. Although it was given the nickname because tennis players often develop it, the condition is also seen in older adults who work as butchers, plumbers, carpenters, painters, and many other occupations that require repetitious arm movements.
The main symptom of tennis elbow is pain, usually located in the muscles on the outside of the elbow or sometimes in the wrist and forearm. Tenderness and swelling within those same areas are also common complaints. These issues can affect a person’s grip strength and make it difficult to do common activities like turning a doorknob, shaking hands, or even just holding a coffee mug.
It is common for tennis elbow to improve on its own within a few months without any type of major medical intervention. The condition is essentially a type of strain or sprain, so a good mantra to follow is RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation) when treating it at home. Physical exercise can also be beneficial, so doctors will sometimes recommend about half an hour of aerobic exercise a few days a week. Conversely, other cases may require increased amounts of rest to avoid undue strain. Many patients respond well to therapies like massage, stretching, acupuncture, and physical or occupational therapy. More serious strains may require the use of NSAID pain relievers, corticosteroid injections, braces, or splints. In the event that everything else fails, surgery is available as a last resort.