Tennis elbow is soreness or pain on the outside (lateral) side of the upper arm near the elbow.
The part of the muscle that attaches to a bone is called a tendon. Some of the muscles in your forearm attach to the bone on the outside of your elbow.
When you use these muscles over and over again, small tears develop in the tendon. Over time, this leads to irritation and pain where the tendon is attached to the bone.
This injury is common in people who play a lot of tennis or other racquet sports, hence the name "tennis elbow." Backhand is the most common stroke to cause symptoms.
But any activity that involves repetitive twisting of the wrist (like using a screwdriver) can lead to this condition. Painters, plumbers, construction workers, cooks, and butchers are all more likely to develop tennis elbow.
This condition may also be due to constant computer keyboard and mouse use.
Symptoms can include any of the following:
Your doctor or nurse will examine you. The exam may show:
X-rays may be done.
The first step is to rest your arm for 2 or 3 weeks and avoid the activity that causes your symptoms. You may also want to:
If your tennis elbow is due to sports activity, you may want to:
If your symptoms are related to working on a computer, ask your manager about changing your workstation or your chair, desk, and computer setup.
A physical therapist can show you exercises to stretch and strengthen the muscles of your forearm.
You can buy a special brace for tennis elbow at most drugstores. It wraps around the upper part of your forearm and takes some of the pressure off the muscles.
Your doctor may also inject cortisone and a numbing medicine around the area where the tendon attaches to the bone. This may help decrease the swelling and pain.
If the pain continues after 6 to 12 months of rest and treatment, surgery may be recommended. Talk with your orthopedic surgeon about the risks and whether surgery might help.
Elbow pain may get better without surgery. But most people who have surgery have full use of their forearm and elbow afterwards.
Call for an appointment with your health care provider if:
Epitrochlear bursitis; Lateral epicondylitis; Epicondylitis - lateral
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Pitzer ME, Seidengerg PH, Bader DA. Elbow tendinopathy. Med Clin North Am. 2014;98:833-849.
Regan WD, Grondin PP, Morrey BF. Elbow and forearm. In: DeLee JC, Drez D Jr., Miller MD, eds. DeLee and Drez's Orthopaedic Sports Medicine. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2009:chap 19.
Updated by: C. Benjamin Ma, MD, Assistant Professor, Chief, Sports Medicine and Shoulder Service, UCSF Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, San Francisco, CA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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