Tennis Elbow (Lateral Epicondylitis)

Tennis Elbow Summary
Tennis elbow is a condition caused by the overuse of the muscles of the arm and forearm. Elbow pain the main symptom of tennis elbow. Treatment involves resting, applying ice, and taking NSAIDs. Cortisone injections may also be beneficial.
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Tennis elbow facts

  • Tennis elbow commonly occurs in people who overuse their arms, and it can be caused by tennis or a wide variety of occupational and recreational activities.
  • Tennis elbow causes elbow pain on the bony prominence on the outside of the elbow.
  • Tennis elbow is diagnosed by a health-care professional, based on symptoms and examining the elbow.
  • Physical therapy, avoiding activities that injure the elbow, and correcting improper tennis techniques are important in the treatment of tennis elbow.

What is tennis elbow?

Tennis elbow is a common condition in those who overuse their arms. It is inflammation on the outside of the elbow, where the tendons insert into the elbow bone. Tendons are tough bands of tissue that connect muscle to bone. The medical term for tennis elbow is lateral epicondylitis, which means inflammation at the bony prominence on the outer side of the elbow (the epicondyle). This is a type of tendinitis.

Golfer's elbow is a related injury, where the tendons attaching at the inside of the elbow become inflamed. The medical term for golfer's elbow is medial epicondylitis.

What causes tennis elbow?

Tennis elbow is caused by overuse. Probably fewer than 10% of patients with this condition actually acquire it while playing tennis. Many other activities can cause tennis elbow, including job and recreational activities such as gardening, lifting full grocery bags, and participating in various athletics. The pain is caused by inflammation and degeneration of the common extensor tendon, one of the tendons in the forearm. Tendon tears may be the cause of chronic forms of tennis elbow.

What are risk factors for tennis elbow?

Tennis elbow is an overuse injury, so risk factors for tennis elbow are any repetitive activities that stress the forearm tendons. Examples include playing tennis, hitting backhand shots, and gardening, although a wide variety of recreational and occupational activities can stress these tendons. The condition is more common in patients in their 40s and 50s because tendon degeneration occurs with age. Smoking and obesity are also risk factors.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 6/24/2013

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