Lateral epicondylitis, more commonly called “tennis elbow,” is a muscle strain condition is not exclusive to tennis players. It is typically caused by overuse. A repeated contraction of the forearm muscles used to straighten and raise the hand and wrist can cause this condition. Small tears occur in the tendons that attach the forearm muscles to the bony prominence outside the elbow. This is a form of tendinitis.
Repetitive use of the backhand stroke in tennis, particularly with poor form, leads to this injury. Daily repetitive movements such as computer mouse use, painting, driving screws, plumbing tools, and cutting ingredients in the kitchen, can also cause tennis elbows. Adults between the ages of 30 and 50 are most likely to experience this, especially if they are in a career where these repetitive motions play a large role in their day-to-day activities. Athletes in racket sports (tennis), butchers, chefs, plumbers, painters, and carpenters are often seen with tennis elbow.
Symptoms of Tennis Elbow
One of the most common symptoms associated with tennis elbow is pain and tenderness on the outside, bony portion of the elbow. That protruding knob part of the elbow is where the injured tendons connect to the bone. Individuals are most likely to experience pain when doing things with their hands:
- Making a fist
- Gripping an object such as a tennis racket
- Opening a door
- Shaking hands
- Raising a hand
- Straightening a wrist
When these symptoms subside and there is no pain with movement, tenderness, or swelling, the injury has likely healed.
Tennis elbow is an acute pain that is effectively treatable. Once diagnosed, there are several methods of treatment that are easy to implement.
- Icing the elbow for 20-30 minutes every 3-4 hours helps reduce swelling and inflammation.
- Over the counter, Non-steroidal anti-inflammatories such as Ibuprofen, Acetaminophen, Naproxen, or Aspirin can also help with pain and swelling.
- Some physicians may recommend physical therapy to help strengthen and stretch the muscles.
- Physicians may be able to offer steroid injections to help ease pain and inflammation. Corticosteroids such as prednisone help to quickly fight off inflammation in the body. A steroid injection would occur at the injury site and provides temporary relief. Steroid injections should not be relied on as a long-term treatment.
If you think you may have tennis elbow, talk to your doctor about the pain you are experiencing. They will likely do a physical exam and ask you to flex your arm, wrist, and elbow to identify trigger points better. Your doctor may also order an MRI to confirm a diagnosis and rule-out any additional underlying problems. Know that tennis elbow is not a permanent or life-threatening condition, and with the right forms of treatment, it is highly reversible.