Tennis Elbow

You don't have to be a tennis player to get tennis elbow. In fact, you can get it from any activity that requires grasping, pulling, or carrying objects with straight arms and your elbows extended. This can include activities you do at work or in your free time. The medical term for tennis elbow is lateral epicondylitis.

Your elbow is where your humerus, the large bone in your upper arm, meets the radius and ulna in your lower arm. Your radius starts in front of your humerus, above your ulna. Your ulna starts under your humerus. Both bones end at your wrist. Part of your ulna goes under your humerus and forms the point of your elbow. On either side and slightly in front of the point, there are two bumps called epicondyles. They are part of your humerus.

Muscles in your forearm run between your hand and fingers to your elbow. A group of these muscles are attached to your lateral, or outer epicondyle by tendons. If you overuse and stress these tendons, you can get tennis elbow.

Tennis elbow is most common in people in their forties and fifties. People who work with their hands, like carpenters, plumbers, painters, butchers, cooks, and autoworkers, are more likely to get it.

Symptoms

Some of the symptoms you might get with tennis elbow include:

  • Pain or burning in the outer part of your elbow or forearm, and
  • Decreased grip strength

Your symptoms may get worse when you use your elbow.

Diagnosis

If you have symptoms of tennis elbow, your health care provider will do a physical exam and ask about your symptoms.

Your provider may also recommend imaging studies like X-rays, MRI, or ultrasound.

An electromyography, or E-M-G, can help rule out nerve problems.

Blood tests can show if you have an infection or arthritis.

Treatment

Resting and stretching your forearm muscles are the first steps in treating your tennis elbow. Ice can be helpful if you start it soon after you first notice elbow pain. Using an elbow band or wrist brace might also help. Over-the-counter medications like acetaminophen or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories, such as ibuprofen or naproxen, can help relieve pain and swelling.

If your symptoms don't improve, your provider may inject your elbow with cortisone or other medications that reduce inflammation and promote healing.

If you continue to have symptoms, surgery might be an option.

Surgery can be done arthroscopically, or during open surgery. During surgery, the surgeon takes out the diseased or damaged tissue and makes repairs.

After surgery, your provider may recommend physical therapy.  Gentle stretches and exercises will help strengthen your arm, improve movement, and lower your risk of getting tennis elbow again.

Talk with your provider before getting back to your normal activities.

Things to Remember

You don't have to be a tennis player to get tennis elbow.
Tennis elbow is caused by overuse and stress on the tendons in your elbow.
You may be able to relieve your tennis elbow without surgery.

What We Have Learned

Tennis elbow is an overuse injury. True or False? The answer is true. You can get it from any activity that requires grasping, pulling, or carrying objects with straight arms and your elbows extended.

Resting can delay healing in tennis elbow. True or False? The answer is false. Resting and stretching your forearm muscles are the first steps in treating your tennis elbow.