Tennis Elbow

What is Tennis Elbow?

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.

What are the Symptoms of Tennis Elbow?

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.

Tennis Elbow Causes

Tennis Elbow (Lateral Epicondylitis) is a painful condition caused by inflamed tendons in the elbow joint. This condition is caused primarily by overuse and repetitive movements of the muscles that straighten and raise the hand and wrist. This overuse is not limited to tennis, as the name might indicate, or other recreational activity. More commonly, this injury comes from occupational repetitive movements. Tennis Elbow can be a result of muscle strain injury from other repeated activities like painting, cutting up meat or other culinary ingredients, overuse of computer mouse, any racket sport, carpentry or use of plumbing tools.

Less frequently, Tennis Elbow can be caused by a direct injury to the elbow. If that injury causes severe inflammation, it can cause the tendons and joint to degenerate leading to the chronic pain of tennis elbow.

How is Tennis Elbow Treated?

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.

Tennis Elbow Prevention

Prevention of Tennis Elbow starts with the patient using proper technique in whatever repetitive activity that he or she is engaged in. Proper training for that activity, then, is essential. Learning incorrect technique will lead to injury through repetition of the faulty technique. Use of proper equipment is also vital to avoiding injury, particularly if it involves wrist braces or special gloves that are standard for the indicated activity.

In terms of training and techniques, it is also important for the patient to monitor the pace of activity. Immediate overuse without gradually increasing stamina and strength can cause strain and tears in the muscle tissue around the elbow joint leading to Tennis Elbow. Proper rest is essential as well as recognizing the beginnings of injury. If the muscles are slightly strained or overtired, it is important to get proper rest and not continue working or playing through the injury. Alternating forms of activity, whether recreational or occupational in nature, and resting those muscles and tendons linked to Tennis Elbow can help prevent its occurrence.

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Last Reviewed:
September 14, 2016
Last Updated:
March 30, 2018