Tennis elbow is the common name for a painful condition of the outer elbow. The medical name for the same condition is lateral epicondylitis, which refers to a small knob or protrusion where muscles and other tissues connect to the lower end of the upper arm bone. The pain and tenderness originate at the attachment point but can also radiate into the forearm and wrist. Tennis elbow derives its name from its frequency among people who play racquet sports, but it isn’t limited to athletes. In fact, one study estimated that from one to three percent of all Americans suffer from this chronic condition.
Most sufferers see improvement with conservative medical care. In some cases, more intensive treatment is required. Turn to the medical providers at Baptist Health when treating tennis elbow.
What Are the Symptoms of Tennis Elbow?
Tennis elbow symptoms include:
- Tenderness and pain in the outer elbow
- Eventual extension of that pain into the forearm and wrist
- Loss of grip strength
- Difficulty with twisting or torqueing motions of the hand, such as turning door knobs or using a screwdriver
Care begins at home with rest and ice but, if pain spreads or persists, see your physician.
What Causes Tennis Elbow?
Tennis elbow is a repetitive-strain injury. Repeated use of the elbow joint in certain arm motions or excessive gripping leads to small tears in the tendons and muscles. The tears do not heal properly, as long as the motions continue. In addition to athletic behaviors, the daily activities of carpenters, car mechanics, painters, plumbers, and butchers can result in tennis elbow.
There is also evidence linking tennis elbow to more serious forms of joint trauma. Examples include sharp blows to the joint or forced extensions of the arm (for example, when improperly hitting a tennis ball).
Risk Factors for Tennis Elbow
You increase your chances of incurring tennis elbow if:
- You are between the ages of 30 and 50 years old
- You participate in certain sports, especially racquet games
- You are employed in an occupation that calls for repetitive motions of the arms and wrists
How Do I Prevent Tennis Elbow?
There are a number of steps you can take to reduce the likelihood of developing tennis elbow:
- Avoid repetitive arm motions, especially those that require excessive gripping, to the extent that you can.
- Build arm and wrist strength through exercise.
- Stretch your arm and shoulder muscles before sporting activities.
- Reduce strain on your elbow by relying more on your shoulder for initiating arm movement.
- Keep your limbs loose and flexible during work or workouts.
How Is Tennis Elbow Diagnosed?
The diagnosis of tennis elbow typically involves:
- Documentation of your health and medical history
- A write up of your symptoms
- A physical examination of your elbow, forearm, and wrist
- Range-of-motion and strength tests for your arm, wrist, and hand
- X-ray, MRI, or electromyography (EMG) tests, to rule out possible alternative diagnoses, such as arthritis, nerve compression, or a herniated disc
How Is Tennis Elbow Treated?
The primary means of treating tennis elbow are non-surgical. These include:
- Rest: Repetitive strain injuries require at least a temporary halt of the physical behaviors that caused them in the first place.
- Ice: Icing the joint for 15 minutes or so several times a day can assist with recovery.
- Pain-relief medications: Over-the-counter medications, such as aspirin and ibuprofen, can ease the most prominent symptom of tennis elbow.
- Orthotic devices: Forearm braces lessen the strain on the muscles and tendons of the elbow joint.
- Physical therapy: Physical therapy often focuses on correcting mistakes in form or technique of the repetitive motion responsible for the condition.
- Steroid injections: Injecting a steroidal medication, such as cortisone, in the area of the lateral epicondyle reduces inflammation and speeds the healing process.
- Shock wave therapy: Shock wave therapy utilizes sound waves to break down joint tissues in a manner that accelerates healing.
Surgery is available if symptoms are unresponsive after six months or more of other treatments. Also available are more experimental procedures, including Botox or platelet-rich plasma injections and dry needling.
Most individuals with tennis elbow are successful in reducing or eliminating their symptoms. That said, tennis elbow is potentially chronic in nature, with a certain percentage of sufferers experiencing some degree of relapse, especially if they continue the behaviors that brought it on originally.
Next Steps with MyChart
Discover MyChart, a free patient portal that combines your Baptist Health medical records into one location. Schedule appointments, review lab results, financials, and more! If you have questions, give us a call.