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Tennis Elbow

What is Tennis Elbow?

Tennis elbow is one of several overuse injuries that can affect your elbow. Other similar conditions include golfer's elbow and Little League elbow but they involve a different part of your elbow.

The pain of tennis elbow occurs primarily where the tendons of your forearm muscles attach to the bony prominence on the outside of your elbow (lateral epicondyle). Pain can also spread (radiate) into your forearm and wrist. Another name for tennis elbow is lateral epicondylitis. The bony spot where pain occurs is near the lower end of the humerus, the bone that connects your shoulder to your forearm at the elbow.

By contrast, both the pain of golfer's elbow and the pain of Little League elbow occur at the bony prominence on the inside of your elbow (medial epicondyle). These conditions also go by the name medial epicondylitis.

Although playing tennis is one cause of tennis elbow, many other common activities can cause the condition. Treatments commonly involve rest and use of anti-inflammatory medications. Rarely, surgery is an option.

Signs and symptoms of tennis elbow

  • Pain that radiates from the outside of your elbow into your forearm and wrist
  • Pain when you touch or bump the outside of your elbow
  • A weak grip
  • A painful grip, such as when you shake hands or grip a doorknob
  • Pain when you straighten or extend your wrist or hand
  • Pain in your elbow when lifting something heavy
  • Pain during repetitive movements of your wrist

Sometimes, you may feel pain even when you aren't moving your arm.

What are the causes of Tennis Elbow ?

Often tennis elbow is caused by repeated strain on the muscles of the forearm that extend the wrist and fingers. Activities such as playing tennis, golf, or repeated twisting or extension of the wrist during work or hobby activities, may strain these muscles.

In rare instances, a direct blow to the elbow may cause this condition.

The inflammation comes on without any definite cause, and this may be due to an arthritis, rheumatism or gout.

Other causes may include a pinched nerve in the neck, referred pain from a shoulder problem, or pressure on the radial nerve in the region of the elbow which is called radial tunnel syndrome.

Furthermore, quite a wide range of common arm motions can result in tennis elbow. These activities may include:

  • Using a screwdriver
  • Painting
  • Carrying heavy weights, such as a suitcase
  • Motions used in gardening, such as pulling weeds
  • Knitting
  • Typing

How is Tennis Elbow Diagnosed?

Examination of the effected elbow will usually reveal tenderness and discomfort when pressure is applied to this area.

 X-ray may help to determine the problem.

The doctor may also examine your neck, as this may be the cause, or part of the problem.


Initial treatment of tennis elbow usually involves self-care steps including rest, icing the area and use of acetaminophen or over-the-counter (OTC) anti-inflammatory medications. If those steps don't help and you still have pain and limited motion after a week or so, your doctor may suggest other steps. These may include:

  • Analyzing your arm motions. Your doctor may suggest that experts evaluate your tennis technique or job tasks to determine the best steps to reduce stress on your injured tissue. This may mean going to a two-handed backhand in tennis or taking ergonomic steps at work to ensure that the way you use your wrist and forearm doesn't continue to contribute to your symptoms.
  • Prescription medications. If your use of OTC medications hasn't reduced pain and inflammation, your doctor may prescribe stronger medications for a short period of time.
  • Exercises. Your doctor or physical therapist to whom you've been referred by your doctor may suggest exercises to gradually stretch and strengthen your muscles, especially the muscles of your forearm. Once you've learned these exercises, you can do them at home or at work. Your doctor may also suggest you wear straps or braces to reduce stress on the injured tissue.
  • Magnetic Therapy. The application of static high strength magnets at the point of pain will reduce inflammation, swelling and therefore pain. Magnets should be worn over a 3-4 weeks period.
  • Corticosteroids. If your pain is severe and persistent, your doctor may suggest an injection of a corticosteroid medication. Corticosteroids are drugs that help to reduce pain, swelling and inflammation. Injectable corticosteroids rarely cause serious side effects, although they may temporarily raise blood sugar levels in people with diabetes. Your doctor may also suggest use of topical corticosteroids for pain relief. These corticosteroids are absorbed through your skin.
  • Surgery.If other approaches haven't relieved your pain, if you've been faithful with your rehabilitation program and given it enough time, and if the activity of your arm is still restricted, your doctor may suggest surgery. You'll be able to have the surgery done on an outpatient basis, meaning you can go home the same day. Surgery involves either trimming the inflamed tendon, or surgically releasing and then re-attaching the tendon to relieve pain.

Prevention of tennis elbow:

Lift objects with your palm facing the body.

Practice strengthening exercises with hand weights.

Acupuncture is also known to reduce pain of tennis elbow.

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