Tennis elbow: Symptoms, causes, and treatment

Tennis elbow is an inflammation of the tendons that join the muscles of the forearm to the outside of the elbow. It often occurs due to overusing the forearm muscles and tendons and those around the elbow joint.

Tennis elbow is also known as lateral elbow pain or lateral epicondylitis and is not necessarily related to tennis. However, tennis players often develop the condition because it stems from repetitive muscle use. Half of all tennis players will get tennis elbow in their career.

Tennis elbow is thought to affect between 1 and 3 percent of the population in the United States (U.S.). It usually occurs between the ages of 30 and 50 years.

Fast facts on tennis elbow

Tennis elbow is caused by small tears in the tendons that join the forearm to the outside of the elbow.

50 percent of tennis players will experience tennis elbow.

Overuse of the forearm with incorrect wrist action can lead to tennis elbow.

Physiotherapy, support devices, and steroid injections can be used to treat the condition.

Certain exercises that provide strength to the supportive muscles in the arm and shoulder, such as the Tyler Twist, can help symptoms.

Stretch carefully ahead of racquet sports to prevent tennis elbow.

Symptoms

Tennis elbow
Tennis elbow affects 50 percent of tennis players.

The most common symptom of tennis elbow is recurring pain on the outside of the upper forearm, just below the bend of the elbow. Pain may also be felt further down the arm, towards the wrist.

Pain can occur when the individual lifts or bends the arm. It is also felt while performing basic actions, such as writing or when gripping small objects.

Tennis elbow can cause pain when twisting the forearm. This can be noticeable when turning a door handle or extending the forearm fully.

Physical therapist diagnosis
A doctor will test the range of motion in the arm.

There is an easy test that a person can do at home to decide whether they have tennis elbow.

Stand behind a chair and place your hands on top of the chair back, with downward-facing palms and straight elbows. Try to lift the chair.

If this action causes pain on the outside of the elbow, it is a likely indicator of tennis elbow.

An X-ray or MRI scan is sometimes needed to rule out other more severe conditions, such as arthritis or an elbow joint injury. However, imaging is rarely necessary. The doctor will test a range of motions with the arm before asking about the location and nature of the pain.

This is normally enough information for tennis elbow diagnosis.

An MRI gives a more detailed image than an X-ray, as it includes the soft tissues, muscles, and tendons inside the arm. This may be required if the outer elbow pain does not respond to conservative treatment after a year.

Electromyography (EMG) may be used to find out if the nerves are compressed.

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Treatment options

Several treatment methods can be used at home or after consulting a physician.

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