What is tennis elbow?
Lateral epicondylitis, commonly known as tennis elbow, is an overuse injury that occurs when tendons in your elbow are overloaded, usually by repetitive motions of the wrist and arm. The repetitive trauma leads to inflammation, degeneration and potential tearing of the tendons.
Who gets tennis elbow?
Despite its name, athletes aren't the only people who develop tennis elbow. Anyone who regularly performs repetitive activities that vigorously use the forearms, wrists or hands can get tennis elbow.
Tennis elbow can affect recreational and professional athletes:
Industrial athletes are also more prone to tennis elbow:
What causes tennis elbow?
Repetitive contraction of the forearm muscles that you use to straighten and raise your hand and wrist can cause your forearm muscles to get fatigued. The repeated motion stressed the tendons that attach the forearm muscles to the bony prominence at the outside of your elbow (lateral epicondyle). As your muscle gets tired, the tendon takes more of the load which can cause inflammation and pain, known as tendinitis. Over time, this overloading can cause a degenerative condition known as tendinosis. Together tendinitis and tendinosis can then lead to tendon tearing.
As the name suggests, playing tennis — especially repeated use of the backhand stroke with poor technique — is one possible cause of tennis elbow. Sometimes, a sudden arm or elbow injury causes tennis elbow. Rarely do people develop the condition for no known reason (idiopathic tennis elbow).
What are the symptoms of tennis elbow?
Since tennis elbow is usually the result of overuse, symptoms tend to come on slowly. The pain, burning or ache associated with tennis elbow may radiate from the outside of your elbow into your forearm and wrist. Symptoms may get worse over weeks and months. Pain and weakness may make it difficult to:
Signs of tennis elbow include:
If you continue the activity that caused your condition, the pain may spread down to your wrist, even at rest. Pain may also persist when you place your arm and hand palm-down on a table, and then try to raise your hand against resistance.
How is tennis elbow diagnosed?
A history is obtained to ask about activities that cause pain. A physical exam is performed to check elbow joint pain, swelling and stiffness. In some cases, you may one or more of certain tests, such as:
How is tennis elbow treated?
Tennis elbow may get better on its own with little, if any, treatment. However, that recovery may take up to 18 months. Proven nonsurgical techniques exist that can accelerate your recovery.
Nonsurgical and minimally invasive treatments for tennis elbow include:
Once you’ve had tennis elbow, you may need to wear a brace to keep symptoms from returning. It’s important to avoid the movement that caused your injury in the first place. Keep your arms flexible and strong. Warm up before exercising or using your arms for sports or other repetitive activities. If you play a racquet sport, make sure your equipment is right for you.
If pain or trouble moving affects your regular daily activities, if your pain doesn’t get better or it gets worse with treatment, if you see a bulge or lump on your arm.
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