Tennis Elbow / Lateral Epicondylitis
What is Tennis Elbow?
- Lateral Epicondylitis or “Tennis Elbow” is an elbow condition caused by overuse, commonly seen in racquet sports like tennis. The tendons that join the forearm muscles on the outside of the elbow can become inflamed, leading to pain and tenderness. As the tendons degenerate, their attachment is weakened and stress on the area increases while the muscle is active, making lifting and gripping motions difficult.
What causes Tennis Elbow?
- The majority of cases are found in individuals ages 30-50, especially those whose jobs or activities include repetitive motions using the forearm muscle (painters, plumbers, auto workers, cooks, athletes). The extensor carpi radialis brevis (ECRB) muscle stabilizes the wrist when the elbow is straight, but with overuse the muscle repeatedly rubs against bony bumps and microscopic tears form where it attaches. It is less common, but direct trauma to the elbow can lead to swelling that makes Tennis Elbow more likely.
What are the symptoms of Tennis Elbow?
- The pain of Tennis Elbow usually starts around the outer part of the elbow and can travel down the forearm to the hand. It tends to start mildly with pain worsening over weeks and months with forearm activity, not from a specific injury. Weakened grip strength is also typical.
How is Tennis Elbow treated?
- About 80-95% of patients can recover from Tennis Elbow with nonsurgical treatments like resting and avoiding irritating activities, NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories like Ibuprofen), physical therapy, bracing, or shock wave therapy. It is also recommended for athletes to make sure their equipment is a proper fit or modifying grip and technique. If symptoms don’t respond to treatment after a period of 6-12 months, there are surgical treatment options like open or arthroscopic surgery to remove degenerated tendon tissue. Usually athletic activity can be resumed 4-6 months after surgery but it is not uncommon to still see a loss of strength.