Tennis elbow is a type of tendonitis—swelling and inflammation of the tendons–that affects the tendons at the outer side of the elbow, causing pain in both the elbow and arm. Tendons, for those who don’t know, are tough bands of connective tissue that connect muscles to bones—in this case, the muscles of your forearm and the bones of your elbow.
Tennis elbow or lateral epicondylitis is the most common reason people give for seeing a doctor about elbow pain, and in spite of the name you don’t have to play tennis for it to be a problem.
In this blog, orthopedic shoulder surgeon Dr. Francis Mendoza will address the symptoms of tennis elbow.
What are the causes of tennis elbow?
Tennis elbow isn’t a problem that happens suddenly. It commonly happens slowly over time as a result of repeated stress on the tendons, thanks to repetitive motions such as gripping a racquet during a swing. The constant stress and pull on the tendons can cause microscopic tears, which in turn cause pain and inflammation.
“Tennis elbow” isn’t limited to tennis players. People who play many types of racquet sports—such as squash or racquetball–are prone to tennis elbow, as are weightlifters and those who participate in fencing.
What are the symptoms of tennis elbow?
The primary symptom of tennis elbow is pain. This can range from tenderness in the bony knob on the outside of your elbow—the lateral epicondyle—to a dull ache to serious pain. This bony knob is where the tendons of your forearm connect to the bone, and it’s the site where the tendon injury occurs.
The pain isn’t necessarily confined to your elbow, though, although this is where the actual injury is. Pain may radiate down your forearm or into your upper arm. You are also likely to experience pain when using your hands. Merely making a fist or gripping something may cause pain. Opening a door or shaking hands can be painful, as can raising your hand or straightening your wrist. Lifting things may also hurt.
What are the treatment options for my symptoms of tennis elbow?
If you have the symptoms of tennis elbow, the good news is that the condition usually heals on its own. In most cases, you just need to give your elbow a break from stress and strain so that it can heal, and conservative treatment measures are all that’s needed. Typical treatment for tennis elbow includes:
- Icing the elbow. This helps reduce pain, swelling, and inflammation.
- Using an elbow strap. This reduces stress and strain on the injured tendon and protects it from further injury.
- Taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen. These also help decrease swelling and inflammation, as well as reducing pain.
- Performing range of motion exercises. These help to reduce stiffness and increase flexibility in the joint.
- Physical therapy. Like ROM exercises, physical therapy increases flexibility, reduces stiffness, and improves range of motion. Physical therapy can also make you aware of the motions, which brought on the problem in the first place, so you can adjust your movement patterns and avoid future injury.
- Having injections. This can reduce inflammation and speed the healing process.
Where can I get my symptoms of tennis elbow evaluated?
In order to diagnose your tennis elbow, you will need a doctor to do a thorough exam. Dr. Mendoza is a member of the American Shoulder and Elbow Surgeons, the Mid-Atlantic Shoulder and Elbow Society, and the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.
If you are experiencing any of the symptoms of tennis elbow, contact our orthopedic office for a consultation and don’t let your elbow pain slow you down.