Tennis Elbow

What is tennis elbow?

Lateral epicondylitis, commonly known as tennis elbow, is swelling of the tendons that bend your wrist backward away from your palm.

A tendon is a tough cord of tissue that connects muscles to bones. The tendon most likely involved in tennis elbow is called the extensor carpi radialis brevis. Tennis elbow is usually diagnosed in both men and women between the ages of 30 and 50 years.

What are the symptoms of tennis elbow?

The following are the most common symptoms of tennis elbow. However, you may experience symptoms differently.

At first, you may have pain, burning, or an ache along the outside of your forearm and elbow. With time, the pain gets worse. If you continue the activity that caused your condition, the pain may spread down to your wrist, even at rest. Pain may also persist when you place your arm and hand palm-down on a table, and then try to raise your hand against resistance. You may also feel pain when you try to lift and grip small objects, such as a coffee cup. A weak grip is another symptom of tennis elbow.

The symptoms of tennis elbow may resemble other medical problems or conditions. Always see your healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

How is tennis elbow diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider can usually diagnosis your tennis elbow by a physical exam. In some cases, you may certain tests, such as:

  • An X-ray to look at the bones of your elbow to see if you have arthritis in your elbow.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can show your tendons and how severe the damage is. An MRI of your neck can show if arthritis in your neck, or disk problems in your spine are causing your arm pain.
  •  Electromyography (EMG) of your elbow may show if you have any nerve problems that may be causing your pain.

How is tennis elbow treated?

It’s important to avoid the movement that caused your injury in the first place. Treatment may include:

  • Rest and stopping the activity that produces the symptoms
  • Ice packs (to reduce inflammation)
  • Strengthening and stretching exercises
  • Anti-inflammatory medicines (such as ibuprofen or naproxen)

If these treatments do not work, your healthcare provider may talk to you about:

  • Bracing the area to keep it still for a few weeks or use of a special brace with activities
  • Steroid injections to help reduce swelling and pain
  • A special type of ultrasound that can help break up scar tissue, increase blood flow, and promote healing
  • Surgery (rarely necessary)