What is tennis elbow?

Tennis elbow (also known as lateral epicondylitis) is an orthopedic condition that occurs when the tendons that attach the muscle to the bone swell. Tennis elbow is a type of tendonitis and is the most common reason people visit their orthopedist for elbow pain.

Causes of tennis elbow

The most common cause of tennis elbow is caused by repetitive movements to the wrist. Although many tennis players develop tennis elbow, anyone who strains the tendons of the forearm can develop the condition.

Other sports that may contribute to tennis elbow are:

  • Racquetball
  • Squash
  • Fencing
  • Weight lifting

Jobs that require repetitive movements in the elbow also can cause tennis elbow. Painters, plumbers, electricians, cooks and assembly line workers can develop this condition.

Risk factors for tennis elbow

Risk factors for tennis elbow include:

  • Age — people over 40 are more likely to develop tennis elbow.
  • Career — people who do jobs that require repetitive elbow movements such as carpentry, typing and painting.
  • Sports and jobs — people who participate in sports or have careers that require repetitive movement to the wrist

Symptoms of tennis elbow

The most common symptoms of tennis elbow are localized pain, swelling and stiffness in the elbow and arm. Pain in the bony knob on the outside of the elbow is the first sign of tennis elbow. The pain may radiate when you lift something heavy, grip an object, open a door or straighten your wrist.

If rest, ice, compression and anti-inflammatory medications do not relieve the pain, schedule an appointment with your orthopedic or sports medicine physician.

Diagnosis of tennis elbow

Tennis elbow is diagnosed by your orthopedic physician who will perform a full medical exam of the elbow, wrist and arm.

The physician may also order imaging tests such as an x-ray or an MRI to diagnose and rule out other orthopedic conditions.

Treatments for tennis elbow

Tennis elbow can heal on its own if it is rested. If a patient is in the early stages of tennis elbow, they can rest and ice the elbow, take an anti-inflammatory medication (such as ibuprofen) or perform certain motions that increase flexibility in the elbow.

If the condition has progressed, the patient may need more advanced treatments such as:

  • Splint/brace
  • Physical therapy & rehabilitation
  • Steroid injection
  • Surgical debridement
  • Ultrasound-guided nerve hydrodissection
  • Ultrasound-guided percutaneous needle tenotomy (PNT)

Recovery from tennis elbow

Recovery from tennis elbow will be dependent on the severity of your case.

It is important to work closely with your physician to determine how quickly you can get back to normal activity.

If you push it too soon, more severe damage can be done to the elbow that will greatly increase the recovery time.

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