What Is Tennis Elbow and How Do I Treat It?

Female tennis player hitting a ball with forehand volley

Tennis elbow, despite its sports-related name, is an injury that can affect anyone who makes repeated movements with one or both arms. Known to doctors as lateral epicondylitis, tennis elbow is a repetitive stress injury that affects about 1 to 3 percent of Americans, mostly between the ages of 30 and 50.

What Causes Tennis Elbow?

Tennis elbow, like many other joint injuries, is caused by overuse. When it’s sports-related, it can develop because of poor technique or a too-tight grip on the racquet. This repeated stress on the forearm can cause inflammation or small tears in the tendons and is characterized by pain on the outside of the elbow. (A similar injury, called golfer’s elbow, affects the inner arm.)

Outside of racquet sports, tennis elbow can result from jobs that require repetitive movements of the lower arm, such as carpentry, painting or assembly-line work. In fact, it’s more commonly seen in non-athletes than their tennis playing counterparts.

What Does Tennis Elbow Feel Like?

One of the first signs of tennis elbow is pain on and around the bony knobs (epicondyles) on the outside of your elbow. Over time, the pain can also extend to both the lower and upper arm. It usually comes on gradually and worsens over time, and eventually can lead to a weakened grip.

Like other tendinitis conditions, tennis elbow can be extremely painful and is likely to get worse when you use your forearm. It’s more common in the dominant hand, but it can occur in both.

What are Treatment Options for Tennis Elbow?

Treatment for tennis elbow begins with a physical examination and testing, and X-rays or an MRI may be used to rule out other diagnoses. From there, depending on the severity of the injury, treatment usually begins with anti-inflammatory medicines and several weeks of rest.

Other non-surgical treatments can include physical therapy, bracing, steroid injections, or regenerative medicine such as platelet-rich plasma injections. Most patients have success with these types of treatments, but if symptoms persist for over a year or the tendons separate surgery may be necessary.

Tennis elbow can lead to chronic pain and weakness if left untreated, so don’t force yourself to just live with the pain. Our team of sports-medicine experts can get you quickly back on the path to recovery. Contact us schedule an appointment today.