What is tennis elbow?
Tennis elbow (lateral epicondylitis) 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 exterior carpi radialis brevis. Tennis elbow is usually diagnosed in both men and women between ages 30 to 50.
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 look like 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 with a physical exam. In some cases, you may have certain tests, such as:
- An X-ray to look at the bones of your elbow to see if you have arthritis in your elbow.
- MRI can show your tendons and the amount of damage. An MRI of your neck can show if arthritis is 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 don't 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 is rarely necessary