What Is Tennis Elbow?
elbow, or lateral epicondylitis, is a painful inflammation of the elbow joint
caused by repetitive stress (overuse). The pain is located on the outside
(lateral side) of the elbow, but may radiate down the back side of your forearm.
You’ll likely feel the pain when you straighten or fully extend your arm.
What Causes Tennis Elbow?
is the part of a muscle that attaches to the bone. Forearm tendons attach the forearm
muscles to the outer bone of the elbow. Tennis elbow often occurs when a
specific muscle in the forearm — the extensor carpi radialis brevis (ECRB)
muscle — is damaged. The ECRB helps raise (extend) the wrist.
stress weakens the ECRB muscle, causing extremely tiny tears in the muscle’s
tendon at the point where it attaches to the outside of the elbow. These tears
lead to inflammation and pain.
can be triggered by any activity that involves repetitive twisting of the
wrist. These activities may include:
- tennis and other racquet sports
- turning a key
- frequently using a screwdriver,
hammer, or computer
What Are the Symptoms of
experience some of the following symptoms if you have tennis elbow:
pain that is mild at first but gradually gets worse
extending from the outside of the elbow down to the forearm and wrist
pain when shaking hands or squeezing an object
when lifting something, using tools, or opening jars
How Is Tennis Elbow
is usually diagnosed during a physical exam. Your doctor will ask you about
your job, whether you play any sports, and how your symptoms developed. They
will then perform some simple tests to help make a diagnosis. Your doctor may apply
some pressure to the spot where the tendon attaches to the bone to check for
pain. When the elbow is straight and the wrist is flexed (bent toward the palm
side), you’ll feel pain along the outer side of the elbow as you extend
(straighten) the wrist.
may also order imaging tests, such as an X-ray or MRI scan, to rule out other
disorders that can cause arm pain. These include arthritis of the elbow. These
tests are not usually necessary to make a diagnosis.
How Is Tennis Elbow
About 80 to 95 percent of tennis elbow cases can be
successfully treated without surgery. Your doctor will first prescribe one or
more of the following treatments:
- Rest: The first step in your recovery is to
rest your arm for several weeks. Your doctor may give you a brace to help
immobilize the affected muscles.
- Ice: Ice
packs placed over the elbow can help reduce inflammation and relieve pain.
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines: Over-the-counter
medications, such as aspirin and ibuprofen, can help reduce pain and swelling.
- Physical therapy: A physical therapist will use various exercises
to strengthen the muscles of your forearm and promote healing. These may
include arm exercises, ice massage, and muscle-stimulating techniques.
therapy: In ultrasound therapy, an ultrasound probe is placed over the most
painful area on your arm. The probe emits high-frequency sounds waves into the
tissues for a set period of time. This type of treatment can help reduce
inflammation and speed up recovery.
- Steroid injections: Your doctor may decide to inject a
corticosteroid medication directly into the affected muscle or where the tendon
attaches to the bone at the elbow. This can help reduce inflammation.
- Shock wave therapy: This is an experimental treatment that
delivers sound waves to the elbow to promote the body’s own healing process.
Your doctor may or may not offer this therapy.
be needed if symptoms don’t improve after a year of treatment. You and your
doctor can determine whether surgery is necessary to improve your condition.
either performed through a small scope that’s inserted into the elbow
(arthroscopically) or through a larger incision made directly over the elbow
(open surgery). Both methods are used to remove any dead tissue and to reattach
healthy muscle onto the bone.
surgery, your arm may be immobilized with a splint. This is done to help
restore muscle strength and flexibility.
successfully treats tennis elbow in 80 to 90 percent of cases. However, it’s common
to experience some loss in muscle strength.
How Can Tennis Elbow Be
There are a
number of ways to help prevent tennis elbow, including:
sure you’re using the right equipment and proper technique for each sport or
exercises that maintain the strength and flexibility of the forearm
your elbow following intense physical activity
your elbow if it’s painful to bend or straighten your arm
If you take
these steps and avoid putting strain on the tendons of your elbow, you can
lower your chances of getting tennis elbow or prevent it from coming back.