Tennis Elbow Overview
Tennis elbow, otherwise known as lateral epicondylitis, is an elbow injury caused by overuse of the tendons that attach to the bone on the outside of the joint. The condition is characterized by small tears in the tendon from continuous overuse of the arm and forearm muscles, leading to pain and tenderness on the outside of the elbow.
Athletes who participate in tennis, racquet sports and other similar activities including repetitive work activities are at an elevated risk of developing tennis elbow. The repetitive arm and forearm movements are the most common cause of this injury, but it may also occur from a work injury, fall or automobile accident. Workers involved in painting, plumbing, gardening or cooking are more prone to this injury than workers in other fields.
Athletes and other active individuals can reduce the risk of this injury by decreasing play intensity, using the right technique and equipment and performing strengthening exercises designed for the elbow area.
Symptoms of Tennis Elbow
Tennis elbow is marked by pain on the outside of the elbow. In many cases, the pain radiates to the forearm and wrist area making grasping items, shaking hands or carrying items such as a purse or briefcase difficult. Patients may also experience a weak or painful grip.
Diagnosis of Tennis Elbow
Dr. Waterman will perform a thorough consultation, including a medical review and physical examination, in order to diagnose tennis elbow. During the consultation, he will answer any questions a patient has such as, “What is tennis elbow?” He will ask questions about the onset of symptoms, recent elbow injuries and daily activities that involve the joint. During the physical examination, he will use a variety of tests to determine pain level and grip strength. Most commonly, tennis elbow is diagnosed by pain with palpation directly over the area of the lateral epicondyle.Dr. Waterman may recommend a series of X-rays and an MRI to rule out any bone injuries or associated elbow injuries.
Treatment of Tennis Elbow
How to treat tennis elbow is determined by the extent of injury, patient’s activity level and patient’s age. The majority of patients have success with non-surgical measures.
The RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation) method is the most common first treatment prescribed byDr. Waterman. If overuse is the cause of injury, the combination of these items will alleviate the pain and other troublesome symptoms. Physical therapy to strengthen the elbow area and a brace may also be recommended. Finally, injections are commonly used to decrease inflammation and facilitate tendon healing.
If tennis elbow symptoms do not respond to non-surgical measures or if the condition is left untreated for too long, a surgical approach may be recommended byDr. Waterman. Typically, an elbow surgery to repair the torn tendons is performed arthroscopically. Arthroscopic surgery is less invasive and involves one or two small incisions and the use of small surgical instruments and a camera to repair damage. Patients can expect a quicker recovery time and less pain with an arthroscopic method in most cases.
At a Glance
Dr. Brian Waterman, MD
- Chief & Fellowship Director, Sports Medicine, Wake Forest
- Team Physician, Wake Forest University, Chicago White Sox
- Military affiliation/Decorated military officer and surgeon
- Learn more