What Is Tennis Elbow?
Tennis elbow is also known as lateral epicondylitis. It causes pain on the outside part of your elbow where the forearm muscle tendons attach to the bone. The pain can also radiate from your elbow down the outside part of your forearm and into the wrist. Tennis elbow typically occurs with repetitive motions at the wrist and arm causing excessive strain and overload at the elbow tendons.
This condition does not exclusively occur in tennis players. People who do repetitive motions, such as plumbers, painters, carpenters and butches can develop this condition.
What Are The Symptoms?
Tennis elbow pain may radiate from the outside of your elbow into your forearm and wrist. Pain and weakness may make it difficult to shake hands or grip an object, turn a doorknob, or hold a coffee cup.
What Are The Causes?
Tennis elbow is an overuse and muscle strain injury from repeated contraction of the forearm muscles that you use to straighten and raise your hand and wrist. Tiny tears can develop in the forearm muscle tendons causing pain and inflammation.
Many common arm motions can cause someone to develop tennis elbow, including:
Playing tennis with poor backhand technique
Using plumbing tools
Using a screwdriver
Cooking food and cutting meat
Repetitive computer mouse use
What Are The Treatments?
Treatment for tennis elbow should start with avoiding activity that causes your pain. Resting your elbow by limiting those activities can help the healing process. Ice can be helpful in reducing your pain. Additional treatments include:
Physical therapy can be beneficial in helping you strengthen the surrounding and supporting muscles. Stretching those muscles can also help reduce the tension at your elbow. Eccentric exercises such as lowering your wrist very slowly after raising it can be effective in treating tennis elbow.
Bracing (forearm strap) can also help reduce tendon and muscle strain while decreasing pain.
Over-the-counter pain reliever acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) or naproxen sodium (Aleve).
Corticosteroid injections may be used if conservative treatment has not resolved or improved your pain. Corticosteroids can help reduce inflammation and pain in the area.
Platelet rich plasma (PRP) can be injected into the area to help promote healing by signaling repair cells to come to the area.
Surgery is rarely necessary, but if your symptoms do not improve with conservative treatment then your pain management specialist will refer you to a trusted orthopedic specialist to be evaluated for surgical intervention. Once such surgery is called the TENEX procedure which is a minimally invasive surgery that involves ultrasound guided removal of scar tissue near the painful tendon area.
History and physical exam is an important tool for diagnosing tennis elbow.
Sometimes an X-ray will be ordered to rule out a fracture, arthritis or other causes of elbow pain. Rarely, an MRI is used to assess for soft tissue damage.