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Tennis Elbow

Tennis elbow is an inflammation, soreness, or pain on the outside (lateral) side of the upper arm near the elbow. There may be a partial tear of the tendon fibers, which connect muscle to bone, at or near their point of origin on the outside of the elbow.

Information about Tennis Elbow

The classic tennis elbow is caused by repeated forceful contractions of wrist muscles located on the outer forearm. The stress, created at a common muscle origin, causes microscopic tears leading to inflammation. This is a relatively small surface area located at the outer portion of the elbow (the lateral epicondyle). Medial tennis elbow, or medial epicondylitis, is caused by forceful, repetitive contractions from muscles located on the inside of the forearm. All of the forearm muscles are involved in tennis serves, when combined motions of the elbow and wrist are employed. This overuse injury is common between ages 20-40.

People at risk for tennis elbow are those in occupations that require strenuous or repetitive forearm movement. Such jobs include mechanics or carpentry. Sport activities that require individuals to twist the hand, wrist, and forearm, such as tennis, throwing a ball, bowling, golfing, and skiing, can cause tennis elbow. Individuals in poor physical condition, who are exposed to repetitive wrist and forearm movements for long periods of time, may be prone to tennis elbow. This condition is also called epicondylitis, lateral epicondylitis, medial epicondylitis, or golfer's elbow, where pain is present at the inside epicondyle.

Symptoms of Tennis Elbow

  • Elbow pain that gradually worsens
  • Pain radiating from the outside of the elbow to the forearm and back of the hand when grasping or twisting
  • Weak grasp

Tennis elbow pain originates from a partial tear of the tendon and the attached covering of the bone. It is caused by chronic stress on tissues attaching forearm muscles to the elbow area. Individuals experiencing tennis elbow may complain of pain and tenderness over either of the two epicondyles. This pain increases with gripping or rotation of the wrist and forearm. If the condition becomes long-standing and chronic, a decrease in grip strength can develop.

Diagnosis of Tennis Elbow

Diagnosis of tennis elbow includes the individual observation and recall of symptoms, a thorough medical history, and physical examination by a physician. Diagnostic testing is usually not necessary unless there may be evidence of nerve involvement from underlying causes. X rays are usually always negative because the condition is primarily soft tissue in nature, in contrast to a bony disorder.

Treatment of Tennis Elbow

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (such as ibuprofen, naproxen or aspirin)
  • Local injection of cortisone and a local anesthetic into the affected area
  • Immobilization of the forearm and elbow with a splint for 2 to 3 weeks
  • Heat therapy
  • Physical therapy

Heat or ice is helpful in relieving tennis elbow pain. Once acute symptoms have subsided, heat treatments are used to increase blood circulation and promote healing. The physician may recommend physical therapy to apply diathermy or ultrasound to the inflamed site. These are two common modalities used to increase the thermal temperature of the tissues in order to address both pain and inflammation. Occasionally, a tennis elbow splint may be useful to help decrease stress on the elbow throughout daily activities. Exercises become very important to improve flexibility to all forearm muscles, and will aid in decreasing muscle and tendon tightness that has been creating excessive pull at the common attachment of the epicondyle. The physician may also prescribe nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) to reduce inflammation and pain. Injections of cortisone or anesthetics are often used if physical therapy is ineffective. Cortisone reduces inflammation, and anesthetics temporarily relieve pain. Physicians are cautious regarding excessive number of injections as this has recently been found to weaken the tendon's integrity.


If conservative methods of treatment fail, surgical release of the tendon at the epicondyle may be a necessary form of treatment. However, surgical intervention is relatively rare.

Alternative treatment

Massage therapy has been found to be beneficial if symptoms are mild. Massage techniques are based primarily on increasing circulation to promote efficient reduction of inflammation. Manipulation, acupuncture, and accupressure have been used as well. Contrast hydrotherapy (alternating hot and cold water or compresses, 3 minutes hot, 30 seconds cold, repeated 3 times, always ending with cold) applied to the elbow can help bring nutrient-rich blood to the joint and carry away waste products. Botanical medicine and homeopathy may also be effective therapies for tennis elbow. For example, cayenne (Capsicum frutescens) ointment or prickly ash (Zanthoxylum americanum) oil applied topically may help to increase blood flow to the affected area and speed healing.


Tennis elbow is usually curable; however, if symptoms become chronic, it is not uncommon for treatment to continue for 3-6 months.





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