Lateral Epicondylitis (Tennis Elbow)
Lateral epicondylitis is pain at the elbow. The pain occurs over the bone on the outside of the elbow. There are several muscles and tendons that attach on this area of the bone.
This condition is often called tennis elbow, but it can also occur in people with jobs that require repetitive motions such as roofers and carpenters.
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Lateral epicondylitis is caused by damage to a tendon.
Tendons connects muscles to bone. Repetitive or stressful movements of the muscles causes strain and pain at the tendon. The tendons associated with lateral epicondylitis are connected to forearm muscles. These muscles are active when you grip something, such as a tennis racquet. Actions that can cause irritation to the tendons of the elbow include:
- Improper technique for hitting a tennis ball
- Improper size of tennis racquet or tension of racquet strings
- Improper golf swing technique or grip of golf clubs
- Doing certain arm motions too much, such as:
- Tennis strokes
- Golf swings
- Using a hammer or screwdriver
Factors that increase your risk of lateral epicondylitis include:
- Playing tennis or golf
- Work that requires repetitive wrist extension and gripping with a closed fist
- Muscle imbalance
- Decreased flexibility
- Advancing age
Lateral epicondylitis may develop slowly over time. It may not be associated with a sudden injury. Symptoms include:
- Pain and tenderness on the outside of the elbow
- Possibly pain extending down the forearm
- Tightness of forearm muscles
- Stiffness or trouble moving the elbow or wrist
- Lack of full elbow extension
Pain may be most noticeable when doing activities like:
- Shaking hands
- Turning doorknobs
- Picking up objects with your palm down
- Hitting a backhand in tennis
- Swinging a golf club
- Pressing on the outside of the elbow
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history.
The doctor will examine your elbow for:
- Pain on the outside of the elbow when:
- Doing certain arm motions
- Pressure is applied on the outside of the elbow
- Stiffness of elbow and wrist movement
X-rays are not usually necessary, but they can help find problems with the bones, such as calcium deposits.
Avoid activities that cause pain. Do not play sports or do repetitive motions until the pain is gone. You may need to alter how you do certain activities:
- When lifting objects, lift with your palms up.
- Consult a sports professional to check your form when playing tennis or golf
Ice may help decrease some discomfort and swelling. Apply ice pack to the outside of the elbow for 15-20 minutes. Repeat for about four times a day for several days. Do not apply ice directly to your skin. Wrap the ice or cold pack in a towel.
Your doctor may refer you to a physical therapist. You will learn exercises that may help reduce your symptoms.
Medication may help reduce swelling in the tendon and pain.
Certain injuries may require a forearm brace that limits the force of your forearm muscles on the tendon.
Your doctor may inject cortisone into the tendon. This may help to reduce pain and inflammation in the short term.
To reduce your risk of getting tennis elbow:
- Keep your arm muscles strong. This will decrease the stress on the tendons.
- After a short warm-up period, stretch out your arm muscles.
- Learn the proper technique for activities that require forearm motion.
- If you play tennis, ask a tennis specialist to check your:
- Technique for hitting the ball, especially your backhand
- Racket size, tension of racket strings and composition of the racquet frame
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Content was created using EBSCO’s Health Library. Edits to original content made by Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice.