Tennis Elbow (Lateral Epicondylitis)

Tennis elbow at a glance

  • Tennis elbow (also known as lateral epicondylitis) develops when the tendons and muscles in the elbow become inflamed from repetitive arm, forearm, hand or wrist movements.
  • Improper technique in racquet sports has led to this condition being referred to as tennis elbow, but anyone with occupations or hobbies that require similar motions may develop tennis elbow.
  • Symptoms include pain that increases with activity in the outside part of the elbow.
  • At-home treatment should include rest, ice, compression and elevation, as well as wrapping the elbow. In severe cases of tennis elbow, physical therapy or surgery may be necessary.

If you are experience symptoms of Tennis Elbow or other elbow pain, contact us to request an appointment with one of our orthopedic specialists. Muir Ortho serves the greater East Bay area with locations in Concord, Walnut Creek, Brentwood and San Ramon.

Causes of tennis elbow

Tennis elbow is an overuse injury caused by repetitive contraction of the forearm muscles to straighten the hand or lift with the palm side of the hand facing down – a backhanded motion typically seen in tennis. The repetitive stress causes the tendons or muscles that attach the forearm muscles to the outside of the elbow to become inflamed or develop small tears.

Despite its name, tennis elbow if fairly common and affects more than 200,000 people in the United States each year. Women and men are equally affected, although it is most common in people ages 30 to 50. Any repetitive activity that involves twisting of the wrist  (such as using a computer mouse or screwdriver) can cause this condition.

A similar condition called golfer’s elbow refers to the same injury to the inside of the elbow.

Symptoms of tennis elbow

Symptoms of tennis elbow include pain and tenderness in the outside part of the elbow (the lateral epicondyle), which becomes more painful during intense use of the arm.Some people may experience pain only when they use their forearm and wrist for twisting movements (such as opening a jar).

If the condition has become severe, increased pain could also extend to the forearm and wrist and increase with everyday activities such as lifting and grasping objects.

Treatment of tennis elbow

Treatment of tennis elbow depends upon a variety of factors including how a patient’s injury occurred, any occupational risk factors, and recreational sports participation.

To relieve pain from tennis elbow, the activity causing the pain should be limited or stopped completely. Initial treatment should include the rest, ice, compression and elevation of the elbow with over-the-counter medication, such as ibuprofen, to relieve the pain. Be sure to talk to your pharmacist before purchasing anti-inflammatories as these medications may be contraindicated as they may interact with other medications and medical conditions.

Wrapping the forearm just below the elbow or wearing a wrist splint to protect the injured muscles and tendons as they heal may also be necessary. In severe or long-lasting episodes, an injection of medication into the arm may relieve discomfort.

After a few weeks, exercise and stretching to strengthen the muscles will help prevent tennis elbow symptoms from returning, although recurrence of the condition once normal activity is resumed is common.

Learning proper technique when playing tennis, participating in sports or making adjustments to movement during other activities, as well as wearing a brace during the activity, will go a long way in preventing tennis elbow from developing again.

The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons estimates up to 95 percent of all tennis elbow cases heal on their own with proper at-home remedies. However, physical therapy or surgery may be recommended by your doctor if the pain does not go away or the condition does not improve after 6-12 months.