Although it is referred to as tennis elbow, this condition is not exclusive to tennis players. Lateral epicondylitis, better known as Tennis elbow, is a muscle strain injury that is typically caused from overuse. A repeated contraction of the muscles in the forearm that are used to straighten and raise the hand and wrist can cause the injury known as tennis elbow. Small tears may develop in the tendons that attach the muscles of the forearm to the bony prominence at the outside of the elbow. This injury is a form of tendinitis. Repeated use of the backhand stroke in tennis, particularly with poor form, can lead to this injury, however, additional repeated movements such as computer mouse use, painting, driving screws, using plumbing tools, and cutting ingredients in the kitchen, mainly meats, can also cause tennis elbow. Adults between the ages of 30 and 50 are most likely to experience tennis elbow, especially if they are in a career where these repetitive motions play a large role in their day-to-day activities. Athletes in racket sports (tennis), butchers, chefs, plumbers, painters, and carpenters are often seen with tennis elbow.
One of the most common symptoms of tennis elbow is pain and tenderness on the outside, bony portion of the elbow. That protruding knob part of the elbow is where the injured tendons connect to the bone. Individuals are most likely to experience pain when doing things with their hands. Lifting, making a fist, gripping an object such as a tennis racket, opening a door, shaking hands, raising a hand or straightening a wrist. When these symptoms subside and there is no longer pain with movement, tenderness, or swelling, then the injury has likely healed.
Tennis elbow is typically an acute pain that is highly treatable. Once diagnosed, there are several methods of treatment that are easy to implement.
Icing the elbow for 20-30 minutes every 3-4 hours helps reduce swelling and inflammation.
Over the counter Non-steroidal anti-inflammatories such as Ibuprofen, Acetaminophen, Naproxen, or Aspirin can also help with pain and swelling. Some physicians may recommend physical therapy to help strengthen and stretch the muscles.
Lastly, physicians may be able to offer steroid injections or nerve block injections to help ease pain and inflammation. Corticosteroids such as prednisone help to quickly fight off inflammation in the body. A steroid injection would occur at the injury site and provides temporary relief. Steroid injections are not recommended as a long-term treatment. Nerve block injections are injected at the site and prevent the damaged or injured nerves from communicating pain signals to the brain.
If you think you may have tennis elbow, talk to your doctor about the pain you are experiencing. They will likely do a physical exam and ask you to flex your arm, wrist, and elbow to better identify trigger points. Your doctor may also order and MRI in order to confirm a diagnosis and rule-out any additional underlying problems. Know that tennis elbow is not a permanent or life-threatening condition and with the right forms of treatment is highly reversible.
Dr. Skaribas is fellowship-trained and double board certified in Pain Medicine and Anesthesiology. He has been performing minimally invasive treatments to address chronic pain for more than 25 years and is nationally recognized for his expertise in diagnosing and treating difficult cases of complex chronic pain.