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Tennis elbow is soreness or pain on the outside (lateral) side of the upper arm near the elbow. The part of the muscle that attaches to a bone is called a tendon. Some of the muscles in your forearm attach to the bone on the outside of your elbow. When you use these muscles over and over again, small tears develop in the tendon. Over time, this leads to irritation and pain where the tendon is attached to the bone.
This injury is common in people who play a lot of tennis or other racquet sports, hence the name "tennis elbow." Backhand is the most common stroke to cause symptoms.
However, it is actually much more commonly seen as a result of a simple overuse injury; that is any activity that involves repetitive grasping and/or lifting. with the affected extremity. These can range from simple daily household activities such as cooking and cleaning to constant computer keyboard and mouse use, as well as activities such as gardening.
Symptoms of tennis elbow include:
- Elbow pain that gradually worsens
- Pain radiating from the outside of the elbow to the forearm and back of the hand when grasping or twisting
- Weak grasp
The first step is to rest your arm and avoid the activity that causes your symptoms for at least 2-3 weeks. You may also want to:
- Put ice on the outside of your elbow 2-3 times a day.
- Take nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (such as ibuprofen, naproxen or aspirin).
If your tennis elbow is due to sports activity, you may want to:
- Ask about any changes you can make in your technique.
- Check any sports equipment you are using to see if any changes may help. If you play tennis, changing the grip size of your racket may help.
- Think about how often you have been playing and whether you should cut back.
An occupational therapist can show you exercises to stretch and strengthen the muscles of your forearm. You can buy a special brace for tennis elbow at most drug stores. It wraps around the upper part of your forearm and takes some of the pressure off the muscles.
Your doctor may also inject cortisone and a numbing medicine around the area where the tendon attaches to the bone. This may help decrease the swelling and pain.
If the pain continues after 6-12 months of rest and treatment, surgery may be recommended. Talk with one of our orthopaedic surgeon about the risks, and whether surgery might help.