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Tennis Elbow Overview

by Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT March 13, 2020 0 Comments


Even if you don't play tennis, you can still develop tennis elbow. In fact, only about 5% of cases are attributed to the sport, which means it is a very real threat to adults of all ages. With more than 200,000 cases per year in the United States, there is a fairly good chance that you might experience tennis elbow at some point. Understanding the injury is the best way to protect yourself.

What is Tennis Elbow?

Referred to by doctors as lateral epicondylitis, tennis elbow tendonitis is a common injury that can usually be healed with simple at-home treatments. However severe tennis elbow can lead to more serious complications that affect your overall quality of life, making fast and effective treatment a priority. Despite its name, only a small number of cases are caused by tennis or golf related injuries.

Location of Injury

In cases of tennis elbow, the forearm muscles affected attach to the outside of the elbow. These muscles are known as the extensors, including the most common being the extensor carpi radialis brevis (ECRB). These muscles run down the length of your forearm and connect to the elbow. If left untreated, tennis elbow can lead to chronic pain issues that affect normal use of the arm.

What Causes Tennis Elbow?

Tennis elbow results from overuse of the forearm muscles that attach to the outside of the elbow. It results in a series of irritation and potential small tears of the tendons around the elbow joint. This causes tissue strain and inflammation, leading to the symptoms of tennis elbow.

Muscle irritation or tearing can be caused by a wide variety of physical activities. Some of the more common tennis elbow causes include:

  • Tennis and other racket sports
  • Cooking (especially chopping)
  • Painting
  • Improperly performed exercises of the arms
  • Extended use of tools like screwdrivers or a computer mouse

Chronic tennis elbow is the result of these or similar activities performed over long periods of time. If you experience a dull, persistent ache in your outer forearm, consider whether your repetitive daily activities are to blame.

Tennis Elbow Symptoms

What are the symptoms of tennis elbow? Pain is the most obvious, but it can vary widely in intensity. Mild symptoms of tennis elbow may develop into severe pain over weeks or months if the underlying causes aren’t addressed.

Keep an eye out for these signs of tennis elbow, and seek treatment as early as possible.

  • Tenderness on the outer forearm
  • Stiffness in the joint, especially in the morning
  • Elbow pain when gripping an object

What Does a Tennis Elbow Injury Look Like?

This is a common question among those looking to self-diagnose, however the fact is that tennis elbow does not come with easily identifiable visual symptoms. If you are not sure about the source of your tennis elbow symptoms and causes, consult a doctor or physical therapist.

What Does Tennis Elbow Feel Like?

Tennis elbow pain location is the main indicator of this issue—tennis elbow affects the outer forearm where it connects to the elbow. To get a better idea of the nature of your condition, try gripping your fist tightly. If you experience excessive pain near your elbow, tennis elbow is likely the cause.

Tennis Elbow Diagnosis

Treatment for tennis elbow always begins with assessing your individual symptoms and how it’s affecting your arm function and lifestyle. If you aren’t sure about the type of injury you are facing, talk to a doctor. Your doctor will perform a physical exam, during which they will perform palpation, assessment of strength, flexibility and pain levels, and any other relevant markers. If more severe complications are suspected, such as nerve injury or fracture, an MRI scan may be required for an accurate diagnosis.

How to Recover from Tennis Elbow

Now that you know how to identify tennis elbow, you can be proactive, put all the information together, and build a comprehensive plan for lifelong joint health. Treatment may include simple home remedies, a bout of physical therapy, prescribed or injected medications, or any other options for addressing pain and inflammation. Typically, the results will not be immediate.  However, consistent and quality care will reduce your symptoms over the course of a few days to weeks.

If you are still at a loss as to what to do for tennis elbow, talk to a trusted healthcare professional for more insight.

SHOP TENNIS ELBOW PRODUCTS

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Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT
Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT

JayDee Vykoukal is a Doctor of Physical Therapy, owner of the healthy habit platform Health Means Wealth, and freelance medical writer. She loves traveling and spending time with her family in nature. Her passion is helping others continue to participate in the activities they love through education and proper exercise.



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