Tennis elbow is a problem with the tendons that attach the bony bump at the outer side of your elbow with the muscles in your forearm and wrist. Tendons are strong bands of tissue that attach muscle to bone. You use these muscles and tendons when you bend your wrist backward.
Tendons can be injured suddenly or they may be slowly damaged over time. You can have tiny or partial tears in your tendon. If you have a complete tear of your tendon, it is called a rupture. Tennis elbow is also called lateral epicondylitis, elbow tendinopathy, tendinosis, or wrist extensor tendinopathy.
Tennis elbow is usually caused by activities that overuse the tendons and muscles in your forearm that straighten and raise your hand and wrist. Examples of these activities are tennis and other racket sports, carpentry, machine work, computer work, and knitting. Tennis elbow may also be caused by a sudden injury that twists or tears your tendon.
Symptoms may include:
Your healthcare provider will examine you and ask about your symptoms, activities, and medical history. You may have X-rays or other scans.
You will need to change or stop doing the activities that cause pain until the tendon has healed. For example, you will need to avoid racket sports, hammering, or unscrewing jars until your symptoms go away. If you play tennis, you may need to use a tennis racket with a larger grip or change the way you hold or swing your racket, or get exercise by walking or running instead of playing tennis. Try to lift objects with your palm facing up to keep from overusing the tendons and muscles in your arm.
Your healthcare provider may recommend stretching and strengthening exercises to help you heal.
You may need to put an elastic bandage around the elbow, or a strap just below the tender spot on the elbow.
If the pain does not go away, your provider may give you a shot of a steroid medicine.
In severe cases, you may need surgery to repair the tendon.
The pain often gets better within a few weeks with self-care, but some injuries may take several months or longer to heal. It’s important to follow all of your healthcare provider’s instructions.
To help relieve swelling and pain:
Moist heat may help relax your muscles and make it easier to move your arm. Put moist heat on the injured area for 10 to 15 minutes at a time before you do warm-up and stretching exercises. Moist heat includes heat patches or moist heating pads that you can purchase at most drugstores, a wet washcloth or towel that has been heated in the dryer, or a hot shower. Don’t use heat if you have swelling.
Follow your healthcare provider's instructions, including any exercises recommended by your provider. Ask your provider:
Make sure you know when you should come back for a checkup.
Warm-up exercises and stretching before activities can help prevent injuries. If your arm hurts after exercise, putting ice on it may help keep it from getting injured.
Follow safety rules and use any protective equipment recommended for your work or sport. For example, be sure your tennis racket has the proper grip size. In job-related activities, make sure your posture is correct and that the position of your arms during your work doesn't put stress on your elbow or arm muscles.