Tennis elbow – the medical term is lateral epicondylitis – is a type of tendinitis in which there is swelling of the tendons that bend your wrist backward away from your palm. Tendons are tough cords of tissue that connect muscles to bones.
It usually occurs because of overusing the muscles and tendons in the forearm and those around the elbow joint. Despite its name, however, tennis elbow isn’t limited to people who play tennis. It can happen to anyone who overuses these muscles and tendons through repetitive motion.
Tennis elbow is most frequently diagnosed in both men and women between the ages of 30 and 50.
The most common symptom of lateral epicondylitis is pain, burning or an ache along the outside of your forearm and elbow that gets worse over time, even at rest. A weak grip is another common symptom.
More than 90% of people with tennis elbow improve with non-surgical treatment.
If left untreated, tennis elbow may become chronic and last for months, even years, especially if you continue the repetitive activity that caused the problem. There may also be nerve entrapment in the forearm, which is why it’s important to see a specialist for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment.
It’s also important to see a specialist because the symptoms of tennis elbow can be similar to other conditions such as cubital tunnel syndrome or arthritis.
Why Choose Us to Diagnose and Treat Tennis Elbow
Cooper University Health Care has a team of four fellowship-trained and board-certified or -eligible hand surgeons with extensive experience in diagnosing and treating tennis elbow (lateral epicondylitis). You can count on us for:
- Thorough, accurate diagnosis: While Cooper specialists can usually diagnose tennis elbow by physical exam, in some cases more advanced testing may be appropriate, including:
- Musculoskeletal ultrasound (MSK-US): Cooper is one of the few centers in the region to offer this advanced imaging technique
- Electromyography (EMG): This can reveal if you have any nerve problems that may be causing your pain
- Personalized treatment: Treatment is tailored to the severity of your condition and your overall health. It may include:
- Rest and stopping the activity that produces the symptoms
- Ice packs (to reduce inflammation)
- Strengthening and stretching exercises
- Anti-inflammatory oral medicines
- Bracing the affected area
- Steroid injections to help reduce swelling and pain
- Therapeutic ultrasound that can help break up scar tissue, increase blood flow and promote healing
- Surgery (in rare cases) to repair the tendon
Tennis Elbow Causes and Risk Factors
If you play tennis or another racket sport, tennis elbow may be caused by:
- Improper backhand stroke
- Weak shoulder and wrist muscles
- Using a tennis racket that is too tightly strung or too short
- Hitting the ball off-center on the racket, or hitting heavy, wet balls
If you don’t play tennis, you can still get tennis elbow as the result of such repetitive movement as:
- Painting with a brush or roller
- Operating a chain saw
- Regular, frequent use of other hand tools
- Repeated hand motions in certain professions such as meat cutters, musicians, dentists, and carpenters
Symptoms of Tennis Elbow
These are the most common symptoms of tennis elbow:
- Pain, burning or aching along the outside of your forearm and elbow that worsens over time
- The pain may spread down to your wrist, even at rest
- Pain when you place your arm and hand palm-down on a table, and then try to raise your hand against resistance
- Pain when you try to grip and lift small objects, such as a coffee cup
- Weak grip
Preventing Tennis Elbow
The most important ways to prevent tennis elbow are:
- Keep your arms strong and flexible
- Avoid repetitive movements
- Warm up before exercising or using your arms for sports or other repetitive movements
- If you play a racquet sport, make sure you’re using the proper technique and that your equipment is right for you
To learn more about the services available for treating tennis elbow at Cooper or to request an appointment, please call 800.8.COOPER (800.826.6737).
Refer a Patient
If you are a doctor who wants to refer a patient to Cooper for lateral epicondylitis care, please call 800.826.6737.