A tennis elbow is a wear-and-tear injury of the tendons on the outer aspect of your elbow that connect the muscles of your forearm to the elbow joint. Despite its name, you can get a “tennis elbow” without ever having stepped on a tennis court.
Any repetitive movement that puts stress on the outer region of the elbow such as gripping an object, manual labor, or a playing a single-handed backhand in tennis can result in lateral epicondylitis, which is the medical term for a tennis elbow. This repeated stress causes microscopic tears in the tendon. With constant stress and overuse, the tendon cannot heal itself and this leads to worsening pain and disability.
The main symptom of a tennis elbow is pain on the outside of your elbow that may slowly spread down your forearm, and in severe cases, the pain may extend into your fingers. The forearm muscles may feel sore and tight. Bending your wrist backwards, making a fist, opening a door, lifting an object, or shaking hands may exacerbate your pain.
Your doctor will diagnose your condition based on your symptoms and by taking a detailed medical history. A physical examination will then be conducted to test range of motion of the elbow and determine what movements exacerbate your pain. Imaging tests such as X-rays or an MRI scan may be ordered to confirm the diagnosis and rule out any other problem.
Treatment will depend on the severity of symptoms.
- Rest: Avoiding any activity that causes stress and pain gives the tendon a chance to heal itself. If the condition is detected early, this is the only treatment you may need.
- Ice: Applying ice to the area 3-4 times a day for 15 minutes at a time will reduce swelling and pain.
- Compression: Wearing an elbow strap will help offload stress from the injured tendon.
- Pain medication: Non-steroidal anti-inflammatories may also be used if recommended by your doctor.
- Physical therapy: To prevent stiffness and improve elbow function, physical therapy may be recommended. Your doctor or a physical therapist will give you special exercises that can be performed several times a day.
- Injections: Steroid injections and pain killers can provide temporary relief of chronic painful symptoms.
- Platelet-rich plasma therapy (PRP) and stem cell therapy: These are advanced treatments that utilize platelet-rich plasma and stem cells derived from your own body to cause regrowth of injured tendons.
- Surgical repair: When conservative treatments fail to relieve painful symptoms of a tennis elbow, surgical repair may be required. In some cases, the procedure can be done using arthroscopy or minimally invasive surgery.
The physicians of the Carrell Clinic™ are committed to providing the highest standards of excellence in orthopedic care. Book an appointment with us today.