Tennis Elbow

By:    Published: November 15, 2012

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You may have heard the term “tennis elbow” before, but did you know that you can get this condition from all sorts of other activities, besides tennis? Find out more about what causes tennis elbow as well as how you can treat it.

Definition

Tennis elbow is a condition that is marked by pain or soreness near the elbow. The pain sometimes extends to the outer area of the upper arm or the forearm and wrist as well as the elbow. Tennis elbow occurs when the tendons in the elbow are overworked. This is usually due to a repetitive motion. The name stems from the fact that tennis players often develop this condition from doing a particular swing (such as a backhand swing) while playing.

Symptoms

The main symptom of tennis elbow is pain in the elbow area. The following are some of the more specific characteristics of the pain associated with tennis elbow:

  • Worsens over time
  • Radiates from the elbow to the forearm and wrist area when grasping or twisting something
  • Radiates into the outer part of the upper arm when swinging or moving the whole arm
  • Weak grip strength due to pain felt in the arm
  • Burning sensation when in pain

Causes And Risk Factors

Tennis elbow occurs due to an overuse of the muscles in the arm that are attached to the elbow. This overuse – particularly when it is due to a repetitive motion – can cause small tears in the tendons that attach those muscles to the bone on the outside of the elbow. Those small tears are causing the pain and weak grip associated with tennis elbow.

The risk of develop tennis elbow increases when you do a repetitive motion with the arm that uses the muscles attached to the bone in your elbow. Some examples of these types of activities include:

  • Swinging a tennis racket
  • Using plumbing tools
  • Using carpentry tools
  • Repairing automobiles
  • Painting
  • Using a screwdriver
  • Cutting cooking ingredients, especially meat
  • Excessive use of a keyboard and/or computer mouse

Because so many of these activities involve work, a person’s occupation can significantly increase their risk of developing tennis elbow. This includes auto mechanics, painters, plumbers, carpenters and any office worker who spends much of their day at a computer. Likewise, participation in racket sports also increases your risk of developing this condition.

Another factor that increases your risk of getting tennis elbow is your age. People who are between the ages of 30 and 50 are most likely to get this condition. However, it is still possible for individuals of any age to get tennis elbow.

Prevention

You may be able to prevent it with some slight adjustments to your behavior. The following are some of the best ways to help prevent tennis elbow:

  • If you participate in racket sports or any other sports which may lead to tennis elbow, be sure to learn the proper stroke technique and use the right equipment.
  • Use ergonomic equipment to help keep your arm in a comfortable range of motion. One example is an ergonomic wrist rest to use in front of your keyboard and computer mouse.
  • Don’t put unnecessary stress on your joints. If you feel that your arm or wrist are tiring, take a break or find a new way to complete the job without creating pain in your elbow and arm.

Treatment

If your tennis elbow is not severe, you can try at-home treatment before seeing a doctor about your condition. Try these home treatments for tennis elbow if your pain is only mild:

  1. Rest your arm and avoid the activity causing your symptoms for two to three weeks.
  2. Place an ice pack on the outside of your elbow two or three times a day.
  3. Take an over-the-counter, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication such as ibuprofen or aspirin.

If your pain continues or worsens even with these at-home remedies, see a doctor about your condition. Your doctor will most likely suggest one or more of the following treatment options:

  • Wear a special brace around your arm to take pressure off the muscles.
  • Injections of cortisone around the affected area to reduce swelling and pain.
  • Visits to an occupational therapist to learn exercises that stretch and strengthen the forearm muscles.

If your pain continues to worsen even with these treatments and does not get better after 6 to 12 months, you may need to get surgery to stop the pain.

If you aren’t able to relive your tennis elbow with at-home treatment options, it’s important to see a doctor about your condition. When left untreated, tennis elbow can lead to chronic pain, especially when you try to lift or grip something. Get your tennis elbow treated sooner for the best chance at a successful and complete recovery.

Sources:

  • PubMed Health
  • Mayo Clinic
  • American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons

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