Tennis elbow occurs when repetitive, strenuous movement in the arm damages the tendon that connects the forearm to the elbow. While tennis players are particularly prone to this injury due to the repetitive arm strain involved in the sport, tennis elbow is not reserved solely for tennis players. People whose jobs involve these sorts of motions, like plumbers, carpenters, butchers, and construction workers, also commonly suffer from this injury.
The pain can be especially acute in the exterior, boney bump on the outside of the elbow and can often spread down the forearm to the wrist. Tennis elbow normally heals after a period of rest, when less pressure and strain are put on the elbow.
Causes of Tennis Elbow
Tennis elbow is the result of gradual overuse or overexertion of the elbow over time. Repeatedly bending, twisting, or flexing the arm can put strain on the elbow joint and damage the tendon that holds together the forearm and elbow. While it is less common, acute injury or blows to the elbow are can also cause or exacerbate symptoms of tennis elbow.
Athletes and people whose jobs require repetitive strenuous motions can be at high risk for developing tennis elbow. Performing motions incorrectly or using ill-fitted equipment, like a tennis racquet with a bad grip, can make these injuries worse.
Symptoms of Tennis Elbow
Pain and mild inflammation are the most common symptoms of tennis elbow. Certain motions that put strain on the elbow can trigger this pain, including such simple actions as:
- Shaking hands
- Lifting small items like coffee cups
- Twisting a doorknob
When to see a doctor: See your doctor if the usual self-treatment methods like rest, ice-pack application, and over-the-counter pain medication are not effective.
Your doctor will likely diagnose your injury with a simple physical exam. The doctor will ask you about your medical history and your physical lifestyle, including what sports you play, how often you exercise, and what sort of physical activity your job demands.
A typical physical exam will entail your doctor checking the elbow and forearm for tenderness and lack of flexibility. He or she will gently move your elbow, wrist, and forearm to check for these symptoms. If these physical tests prove inconclusive, your doctor may recommend imaging tests, like an X-ray, in order to diagnose the condition and rule out other potential injuries.
Tennis elbow usually gets better over time with some rest, icing the affected area, and using over-the-counter pain medications like acetaminophen and ibuprofen. If these methods don’t help to alleviate pain, other forms of treatment may help, including:
- Physical therapy: Consult with your doctor or a licensed physical therapists to find out exercises that can restore strength and flexibility in the elbow. The physical therapist may assess your form, whether that be the way you hold your tennis racquet or the way you wield an electric screwdriver, in order to reduce the chance of injury in the future.
- Braces: Your doctor may recommend immobilization methods like a brace, wrap, or sling in order to relieve the amount of pressure and strain on the elbow.
- Surgery: If six to twelve months of physical therapy do not alleviate these symptoms, your doctor may recommend surgery to remove the damaged tissue in the forearm and elbow.