Tennis elbow is a condition caused by inflammation of the tendons that join the outside of the elbow to the forearm.
The forearm tendons can become inflamed due to overuse. Performing the same motion repeatedly, can lead to small tears in the tendon, which results in inflammation and pain. For example, swinging a tennis racket frequently can lead to inflammation of the tendon, which is how the condition got the nickname tennis elbow.
Although participating in racket sports is a common cause of tennis elbow, any type of repetitive activity that places stress on the tendon can lead to the condition.
Symptoms and Natural History
Tennis elbow does not usually develop due to a specific injury to the elbow. In fact, most people cannot pinpoint hurting their arm. Instead, pain often starts out mild but may increase as time goes on.
Tenderness on the outside of the elbow most often occurs with tennis elbow. Some people also develop a weakened grip. The pain may be more noticeable during activities that involve forearm movement. If only one arm is affected, it is usually the dominate arm.
Although tennis elbow is not considered as serious as other orthopedic conditions, it can still interfere with day to day living as well as hobbies. For instance, the condition may limit enjoyable activities, such as tennis or other sports. Even daily activities, such as lifting items can cause pain.
A thorough review of symptoms and risk factors including the type of sports you participate in is the first step in making a diagnosis. An exam, which often involves moving the arm and elbow around to pinpoint elbow pain is also done. Additional imaging tests can help rule out other causes of arm pain. For example, an x-ray may be recommended to rule out arthritis of the elbow.
Self-help Treatments for Tennis Elbow
In some instances, self-help treatments may reduce symptoms. For example, simple measures, such as applying ice packs several times a day and decreasing activities that place stress on the elbow can help reduce symptoms.
If tennis or other racket sports appear to be the cause of the condition, it may be helpful to evaluate equipment used and make sure everything fits properly. Ill-fitting equipment could stress the tendon and increase the chances of developing tennis elbow. Wearing a brace on the back of the forearm may allow you to rest the tendon and reduce pain.
Standard Clinical Treatments of Tennis Elbow
Steroid injections may help relieve pain in some people. Although the relief in only temporary, injections along with self-help treatments and rest often improves the condition.
According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, about 80 to 95 percent of people are treated successfully with non-surgical options. In instances where surgery is recommended, there are different surgical approaches that can be taken to repair the damaged tendon including open and orthoscopic surgery.
American Society for Surgery of the Hand. Tennis Elbow. https://www.assh.org/handcare/hand-arm-conditions/tennis-elbow
University of Rochester Medical Center. Tennis Elbow. https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?ContentTypeID=85&ContentID=P00925