Tennis Elbow

Overview

Tennis elbow is pain that occurs when the tendons in the elbow are overused, usually by performing repetitive motions. Despite its name, tennis elbow doesn’t commonly occur in tennis players; it is more common in plumbers, painters, butchers, and other people who perform certain motions repeatedly. The pain caused by tennis elbow can spread to the forearm, wrist, and hand. Most cases of tennis elbow get better with rest and pain medicine, although stubborn cases may require surgery.

Symptoms and Diagnosis

Tennis elbow causes pain in and near the elbow that radiates to the forearm and hand. This pain slowly gets worse and causes weakness in the hand, especially when twisting it or trying to grasp something. If people with tennis elbow continue to perform repetitive motions without allowing the arm to heal, they will experience chronic pain. Doctors can typically diagnose tennis elbow by performing a physical exam and taking a medical history. Other conditions can be ruled out with imaging tests such as X-rays.

Causes

Tennis elbow is caused by overuse of the tendons in the elbow. Repetitive motions cause the tissues to become strained and tiny tears to form in the tendons that attach the forearm and elbow. The repetitive motions used in tennis are one way to get tennis elbow, but other ways to get it include repetitive use of certain tools, painting, and cutting up meat. Older people and people who have certain jobs or play racquet sports are more likely to develop tennis elbow.

Prevention

Tennis elbow can be prevented by using proper form, technique, and equipment when playing certain sports. Athletes should also reduce the time they play if they begin to feel pain. People whose jobs require repetitive arm motions should take breaks when possible.

Treatment

Most cases of tennis elbow get better with at-home care such as ice, rest, and over-the-counter pain relievers. It is very important to avoid any activities that could irritate the elbow until it is healed. If conservative measures don’t help, physical therapy that stretches and strengthens the muscles might restore function. People who get tennis elbow from sports may want to check their technique and make sure they are using the proper equipment. Doctors might recommend wearing a brace as well. Cases that don’t get better after 6 to 12 months may require surgery to remove damaged tissue.

More Information

Mayo Clinic: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/tennis-elbow/DS00469
Medline Plus: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000449.htm
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tennis_elbow