Tennis Elbow (Lateral Epicondylitis)

Tennis player.Tennis elbow is a swelling or breakdown of the tendons that attach to the bony bump (or lateral epicondyle) on the outer edge of the elbow.  This swelling or breakdown causes the outer elbow to become painful.  

The pain from tennis elbow may shoot from the outside of the elbow into the forearm and wrist.  Pain and weakness may make it hard to:

  • Straighten or raise the wrist and hand
  • Make a fist, grip an object, shake hands or turn door handles
  • Lift objects

In many cases, a medical history and a physical exam are all that is needed to make a diagnosis of tennis elbow.  Your doctor will ask about activities and examine your child’s elbow and arm. X-rays of the elbow may be ordered to rule out other causes of elbow pain such as arthritis.

Tennis player.Tennis elbow is caused by overusing the muscles in your forearm that straighten, turn and raise the hand and wrist. When these muscles are overused, the tendons are repeatedly tugged where they attach to the bone. As a result, the tendons become swollen. The following activities may cause tennis elbow:

  • Tennis and other racket sports
  • Carpentry
  • Machine work
  • Computer work  

Treatment may include:

  • Resting the elbow or limiting activities that involve repetitive motion of the wrist
  • Applying ice packs or ice massage to the elbow
  • Stretching and strengthening exercises
  • Wearing an elbow strap called a counterforce brace.  This strap helps keep the forearm muscles from pulling on the painful area.
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines such as ibuprofen (NSAIDs) or topical NSAIDS that you apply directly to the affected area
  • Lifting objects with the palm facing up, which avoids strain on the elbow
  • Changing the way you hold or swing the tennis racket.  Choose a racket with a larger grip.
  • For moderate to severe cases, physical therapy, a corticosteroid injection, and rarely, surgery.

A mild tennis elbow injury may recover within a few weeks.  A severe injury may take six weeks or longer to recover.  If left untreated, this injury may lead to chronic elbow pain or may come back even after you are better.  Continuing activities that cause pain will cause symptoms to return, and it will take longer to recover.  

Some tips for preventing injury include:

  • Do warm-up and cool-down exercises before and after tennis play, including stretching the muscles in the arm.
  • Strengthen the muscles in your forearm.
  • Use the right size tennis equipment. Racket handles and heads that are too big or too small or strings that are too tight or too loose can put more stress on the elbow.
  • Check your tennis technique. Poor technique  may make the problem worse. Learn new ways to play that avoid repeated stress on the joints.

Last Updated 04/2012