Tennis Elbow

Tennis Elbow

Tennis Elbow: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, and Prevention

What is a Tennis Elbow?

Tennis elbow, clinically known as lateral epicondylitis, is a condition causing pain and tenderness on the outer part of the elbow. Despite its name, it’s not limited to tennis players and can affect anyone who repeatedly uses their forearm muscles.

Types of Tennis Elbow

Tennis elbow is a general term used for two main types of elbow tendinopathy:
  • Lateral Epicondylitis: This is the more common type of tennis elbow. It involves the tendons on the outer side of the elbow, causing pain and inflammation in the extensor muscles of the forearm.
  • Medial Epicondylitis: Also known as golfer’s elbow, this affects the tendons on the inner side of the elbow. It leads to pain and inflammation in the flexor muscles of the forearm.

How Common is Tennis Elbow?

Tennis elbow is a relatively common condition, especially among individuals who engage in activities involving repetitive arm motions, like tennis players, golfers, carpenters, painters, and even office workers who extensively use a computer.

Causes of Tennis Elbow

Tennis elbow typically develops from overuse or repetitive strain on the tendons of the forearm. The causes include:
  • Repetitive Arm Movements: Engaging in activities that involve repetitive arm motions, such as playing tennis, using hand tools, typing on a keyboard, painting, or playing musical instruments, can strain the tendons.
  • Poor Technique or Form: Using incorrect techniques while performing activities that involve arm movement can strain the tendons in the elbow.
  • Direct Injury: A sudden impact or injury to the elbow can lead to the development of a tennis elbow.
  • Age and Overuse: Over time, the natural degeneration of the tendons and muscles in the forearm due to age or constant overuse can contribute to the development of tennis elbow.
  • Occupational Factors: Certain professions involving repetitive hand or arm movements, such as carpentry or plumbing, can increase the risk of developing this condition.

Symptoms of Tennis Elbow

Symptoms of tennis elbow typically include:
  • Pain: Pain and tenderness on the outer part of the elbow, which may gradually worsen over time. It can also radiate down the forearm.
  • Weakness: Reduced strength in the affected arm, making it challenging to grip or lift objects.
  • Pain During Activities: Discomfort increases when shaking hands, turning a doorknob, lifting objects, or extending the wrist.
  • Stiffness: Feeling stiff or restricted movement in the elbow or forearm, particularly in the morning or after periods of rest.
  • Difficulty with Certain Motions: Pain or discomfort during activities such as gripping, lifting, or using the wrist and hand.
  • Worsening Symptoms: Symptoms can worsen with continued use of the affected arm without proper rest or treatment.

Diagnosis of Tennis Elbow

Diagnosing tennis elbow typically involves a medical professional performing a physical examination and discussing the patient’s symptoms and medical history. No specific test confirms tennis elbow, but the examination may include:

Physical Examination

Physical Examination The doctor will check for areas of tenderness on the outer part of the elbow, examine the range of motion, and evaluate pain responses during specific movements.

Imaging Tests

X-rays or MRI scans are not usually needed to diagnose tennis elbow, but they can help rule out other possible issues like fractures or arthritis.

Resisted Wrist Extension Test

A doctor may apply resistance to wrist extension to assess pain in the lateral epicondyle, helping to confirm the diagnosis.
The diagnosis is often based on the patient’s reported symptoms, medical history, and physical examination findings, ruling out other conditions causing similar symptoms in the elbow. If there’s uncertainty or the condition doesn’t improve with initial treatments, the doctor might order imaging tests to evaluate the elbow’s condition further.

Complications of Tennis Elbow

Tennis elbow, if left untreated or if the strain on the tendons persists, can lead to several potential complications:
  • Chronic Pain: Without appropriate treatment or modifications to activities causing strain, the pain may become chronic and affect daily activities.
  • Reduced Functionality: Persistent pain and weakness in the affected arm can hinder movements and limit the ability to perform certain tasks.
  • Reduced Grip Strength: Over time, the weakened muscles can result in a decrease in grip strength, making it challenging to grasp objects.
  • Long-Term Disability: In severe, untreated cases, chronic pain and functional limitations may impact work, sports, or everyday activities.
  • Psychological Effects: Long-lasting pain and disability can lead to frustration, stress, and a decline in the overall quality of life.

Treatment Options for Tennis Elbow

Treatment for tennis elbow often involves a combination of approaches aimed at reducing pain and promoting healing. These may include:


Avoiding activities that exacerbate the condition to allow the tendons to heal. Modification of movements or using braces to limit strain might be recommended.

Ice and Heat

Applying ice packs to reduce swelling and pain, followed by heat treatments to improve blood circulation and relax the muscles.


Over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen or naproxen can help reduce pain and inflammation.

Physical Therapy

Specific exercises and stretches prescribed by a physical therapist can strengthen the forearm muscles and improve flexibility.

Braces or Straps

Wearing straps or braces on the forearm can alleviate strain on the affected tendons.

Extracorporeal Shock Wave Therapy (ESWT)

High-energy shock waves applied to the elbow can help stimulate the healing process.


If other treatments fail, surgical options may be considered, such as tendon repair or removal of damaged tissue.

Preventing Tennis Elbow

Preventing tennis elbow involves measures that reduce the strain on the tendons of the forearm:
  • Ensure proper form and techniques during sports, work, or activities involving arm movements to avoid overloading the tendons.
  • Gradually increase the intensity and duration of activities to allow tendons to adapt rather than suddenly stressing them.
  • Utilise equipment designed to reduce strain, such as ergonomic tools or a properly sized tennis racket with proper grip size.
  • Take frequent breaks during repetitive activities to allow the muscles and tendons to rest and recover.
  • Engage in exercises that strengthen the muscles in the forearm, wrist, and elbow to improve their resilience.
  • Before engaging in physical activities, warm up properly and perform stretching exercises to prepare the muscles for activity.
  • Adjust workstations or tools to maintain proper posture and prevent excessive strain on the tendons.

Living with Tennis Elbow

Living with tennis elbow involves managing the condition and adjusting activities to minimise strain on the affected tendons:
  • Adhere to the treatment plan prescribed by a healthcare professional, including rest, exercises, and other recommended therapies.
  • Avoid or modify activities that exacerbate the condition. Utilise techniques or tools that reduce strain on the elbow.
  • Consider using supportive devices such as elbow straps or braces to relieve pressure on the tendons during activities.
  • Continue with exercises prescribed by a physical therapist to strengthen the forearm muscles and prevent recurrence.
  • Regularly rest the affected arm during repetitive tasks to prevent overuse.
  • Be attentive to the body’s signals. If pain or discomfort arises, take it as a cue to rest or modify activities.
  • Regularly consult an orthopaedic specialist to monitor progress and discuss any changes in symptoms or treatment needs.
Tennis elbow, or lateral epicondylitis, is a condition characterised by pain and tenderness on the outer part of the elbow, often due to overuse or repetitive strain on the forearm tendons. It can significantly impact daily activities and functionality if left untreated.
For personalised guidance and comprehensive care for tennis elbow or any related conditions, seeking professional help from The Orthopaedic Practice and Surgery Clinic is recommended. Don’t ignore persistent elbow pain; it’s essential to consult a professional for appropriate evaluation and treatment.
If you’re experiencing symptoms of tennis elbow or related concerns, don’t hesitate to request an appointment with The Orthopaedic Practice and Surgery Clinic for tailored care and management.

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