What is tennis elbow?

Tennis Elbow

Tennis elbow: Overview

Tennis elbow is soreness or pain on the outer part of the elbow. The pain occurs when the tendon is stretched and becomes irritated by repeated twisting of the hand, wrist, and forearm. A tendon is a tough tissue that connects muscle to bone. This injury is common in tennis players. But you also can get it from many activities that work the same muscles. Examples include gardening, painting, and using tools.

Tennis elbow usually heals with rest and treatment at home.

Tennis elbow

Tennis elbow is soreness or pain on the outer part of your elbow. It happens when you damage the tendons that connect the muscles of your forearm to your elbow. The damage makes it painful to rotate your forearm and flex your wrist and fingers backward.

The cause is usually overuse from repeated hand and wrist movements. These movements are sometimes a part of everyday activities, like using a screwdriver. Or the overuse can come from playing sports, like tennis.

What are the symptoms of tennis elbow?

Tennis elbow symptoms usually start gradually. The main symptom is pain. It may start with a dull aching or soreness on the outer part of the elbow that goes away within 24 hours after an activity. Over time, it may take longer for the pain to go away.

You may start to feel pain with any movement, even during everyday activities, such as lifting a jug of milk. You may even have pain when you aren't using your elbow. Other parts of the arm, shoulder, and neck may also be sore. This is because you are using different movements and muscles to make up for the loss of elbow strength and movement.

How is tennis elbow treated?

Most cases of tennis elbow respond to rest, ice, rehab exercises, pain medicine, and using a counterforce brace. You will probably feel better in a few weeks, but it may take 6 to 12 months for the tendon to heal. Surgery is rarely needed.

How can you prevent tennis elbow?

The best way to prevent tennis elbow is to stretch and strengthen your arm muscles so that they are flexible and strong enough for your activities.

Other ways to prevent tennis elbow include:

  • Using the correct techniques and movements during activities. If you feel that things you do at work cause elbow pain or soreness, talk to your boss to find other ways to do your job. Also try taking lessons to learn the best way to do a sport.
  • Using the best equipment for your ability, body size, and body strength. Have a sports trainer or a person who is familiar with sports equipment check yours to make sure it suits you.
  • Not overusing your arm with repeated movements. These can injure your tendon. Try to alternate hands during activities, if possible.
  • Strengthening the muscles of your arm, shoulder, and upper back. This can help take stress off of your elbow.

How is tennis elbow diagnosed?

To diagnose tennis elbow, a doctor will examine your elbow and ask questions about the elbow problem, your daily activities, and past injuries. You probably won't need to have an X-ray. But you might have one to help rule out other things that could be causing the pain.

If your symptoms don't get better with treatment, you might need other tests.

  • An MRI can show problems in soft tissues such as tendons and muscles.
  • Arthroscopy allows the doctor to see inside the elbow.
  • Bone scans are done in rare cases. They can show stress fractures in the bone or certain problems such as a tumor or infection.

Caring for yourself at home when you have tennis elbow

If you have tennis elbow, try these simple tips to reduce pain and start tendon healing. You can help prevent further injury by making your arm muscles stronger.

  • Rest your fingers, wrist, and forearm muscles.

    This allows your tendon to heal. Stop any activity that you think may be causing your elbow pain and soreness. You may have to avoid the activity for weeks to months, depending on how severe the tendon damage is.

  • Try ice or heat.

    As soon as you notice pain, use ice or cold packs for 10 to 15 minutes at a time, several times a day. Always put a thin cloth between the ice and your skin. Keep using ice as long as it relieves pain. You can try heat, or alternating heat and ice, after the first 3 days. Do what works for you.

  • Try using a brace.

    Wear a counterforce brace during activities that require grasping or twisting arm movements. The brace is a strap that you wear around your forearm just below your elbow. It may spread pressure throughout the arm instead of putting it all on the tendon. These braces aren't a substitute for rehab exercises.

  • Try elevating your elbow.

    This may help ease pain and reduce swelling in your wrist or forearm.

  • Try nonprescription medicine.

    Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) include aspirin (such as Bayer), ibuprofen (such as Advil), and naproxen (such as Aleve). They help reduce pain and inflammation. NSAIDs come in pills and in a cream that you rub over the sore area. Acetaminophen (such as Tylenol) can also help with pain. Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.

  • Do warm-up and stretching exercises.

    They may help keep your tendons from getting stiff. If you have any pain, stop the exercises.

  • Start exercising gradually.

    When your pain is gone, start doing stretching and strengthening exercises. Then increase these exercises bit by bit. Learn the correct techniques and which equipment is best for your activities.

What causes tennis elbow?

Most of the time, tennis elbow is caused by overuse. You probably got it from doing activities where you twist your arm over and over. This can stress the tendon, causing tiny tears that lead to pain over time. A direct blow to the outer elbow can also cause tendon damage.

What is tennis elbow?

Tennis elbow is soreness or pain on the outer part of the elbow. It happens when you damage the tendons that connect the muscles of your forearm to your elbow. If you don't treat the injury, it may hurt to do simple things like turn a key or open a door.

Tennis elbow: When to call

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • Your pain is worse.
  • You cannot bend your elbow normally.
  • Your arm or hand is cool or pale or changes color.
  • You have tingling, weakness, or numbness in your hand and fingers.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • You have work problems caused by your elbow pain.
  • Your pain is not better after 2 weeks.

How is a physical rehabilitation program used to treat tennis elbow?

Physical rehabilitation (rehab) is combined with resting the tendon. It can help restore flexibility and build muscle strength. Rehab helps heal injured tendons and muscles. And it helps prevent further injury. Rehab is also needed after surgery for tennis elbow.

A physical rehab program includes:

  • Relieving pain.
  • Maintaining good overall physical fitness.
  • Exercises. This includes warm-ups, stretching, and strengthening.
  • Retraining and ergonomic changes at your work site.
  • Learning new techniques for certain movements. You can use equipment that best suits your ability, body size, and strength. And you will limit activities that require grasping or twisting arm movements.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.

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