Tennis Elbow

1 What is Tennis Elbow?

Tennis elbow is a condition caused by overworking the tendons of the elbow, which is common among tennis players.

Repetitive motions of the wrist and the arm, which strains the tendons of the elbow, cause tennis elbow.

Tennis elbow not only affects tennis players. It can also be an occupational injury among plumbers, carpenters, painters and butchers.

It causes significant pain in the outer part of the elbow, forearm and wrist.

Conservative measures like rest and taking pain medications may relieve symptoms of tennis elbow.

Surgery is reserved for tennis elbow cases that cause significant disability.

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2 Symptoms

Pain or tenderness on the outer part of the elbow, which can spread to the forearm and wrist is the main symptom of tennis elbow.

Tennis elbow pain can be elicited by doing the following activities:

  • Gripping a doorknob
  • Shaking hands
  • Lifting small objects using the wrists
  • Holding an object like a coffee cup
  • Pouring a container of liquid

You need to see a doctor if ice or pain medications does not relieve symptoms of tennis elbow.

3 Causes

Playing tennis, especially when proper technique is not used, can often cause tennis elbow.

The forearm, starting from the elbow, forearm to the wrists, has lots of muscles and tendons in such a small space to allow a wide range of movement.

The elbows carry the significant weight of the forearm and the object being carried during arm movements.

The elbow houses a hinge joint, several ligaments, tendons, and muscles, and so has little room for swelling.

Repetitive and forceful contraction of the upper arms can cause tiny tears in the tendons that attach to the outer part of the elbow, resulting in pain.

The muscles attached to the outer elbow can also sustain damage and cause discomfort.

The damaged tendons and muscles also tend to swell, pressing to the nerves causing pain and tenderness to the forearm.

However, other activities can also cause the condition, such as:

  • Repetitive hammering
  • Loosening or tightening motions, as in fixing and installing plumbing
  • Painting
  • Driving or loosening screw, nuts or bolts
  • Cutting up meat or produce

4 Making a Diagnosis

Making a diagnosis of tennis elbow is done during physical exam.

You are likely to seek the services of a family doctor. If treatments fail to relieve symptoms, you might be referred to a sports medicine specialist or orthopedic surgeon.

You can do certain things to prepare yourself before the appointment.

Make a list describing your symptoms, when do symptoms appear or get worse, and history of recent injuries to the arm and elbows.

You must also list the medicines and supplements you take.

During the appointment, the doctor will discuss your medical history, like having rheumatoid arthritis or nerve disease, having occupations or tasks that require repetitive movements of the arm, or playing sports associated with risk of tennis elbow.

5 Treatment

Several treatment methods exist for tennis elbow.

In many cases, rests alone can relieve pain caused by tennis elbow and may help improve it over time. You can also take over-the-counter pain medications to relieve pain.

If self-care measures fail to give your relief, the doctor may recommend the following treatments for tennis elbow:

  • Learning the proper form may enable you to continue sports or job tasks and prevent tennis elbow.
  • There is always a proper technique or form that enhances technique and prevent injuries to the arm. You can talk to experts to teach you.
  • Using an elbow brace or forearm strap may help reduce stress on the injured elbow.
  • The doctor may recommend certain exercises to strengthen the muscles of the forearm and make it more flexible.
  • Surgery may be needed if tennis elbow does not resolve in six to twelve months of conservative treatment.
  • Surgery for tennis elbow may involve lengthening, releasing, or decompression of involved muscles or tendons, or decompressing affected nerves.
  • Surgery on the elbow might be done through a large incision or several small incisions. After the surgery, you will have to do rehabilitation exercises as part of recovery.

6 Lifestyle and Coping

These lifestyle measures may help control pain caused by tennis elbow:

  • Resting the elbow and forearm by avoiding activities involving exertion of the arms
  • Applying ice pack on the affected part for 15 minutes, three to four times a day
  • Taking pain relievers like ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin B) or naproxen (Aleve)
  • Adopting proper technique or form in sports or work tasks

7 Risks and Complications

Risk factors for tennis elbow include:

  • Individuals age 30 to 50
  • Playing certain sports like tennis, racquetball, badminton, squash or other racket sports
  • Individuals in occupations such as plumbers, painters, cooks, butchers, and carpenters

Leaving tennis elbow untreated only makes pain progressively worse.