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Lateral epicondylitis, more commonly known as tennis elbow, is a painful condition of the elbow caused by overuse. In honor of World Tennis Day, we’re diving into the causes, symptoms, and treatment of tennis elbow.

Your elbow joint consists of three bones – your upper arm bone (humerus), and forearm bones (radius and ulna). Muscles, ligaments, and tendons hold these three bones together. Tennis elbow occurs when the tendons that join your forearm muscles to the bones become inflamed. As the muscles and tendons are overused from repeating the same motions over and over again, they start to become damaged, resulting in pain and tenderness on the outside of the elbow.

 

What causes tennis elbow?

Racket sports such as tennis and pickleball tend to be common causes for this type of injury and general elbow pain, but any heavy use of the elbow with repetitive gripping and lifting can cause this condition. Painters, plumbers, carpenters, mechanics, and butchers often suffer from tennis elbow. A history of rheumatoid arthritis or nerve disease may increase your risk factors for this condition.

 

What are the symptoms of tennis elbow?

Symptoms of tennis elbow tend to develop gradually. Pain will usually begin as mild and slowly get worse. The pain of tennis elbow will occur primarily around the bony bump on the outside of your elbow, called the lateral epicondyle. You may experience tenderness, burning, weakness of the joint, and increased pain with resistance.

If you begin to experience elbow pain and symptoms similar to tennis elbow, try at-home care with the RICE Treatment and Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen and aspirin. If your pain won’t go away or gets worse, it may be time to make an appointment with your orthopedic specialist.

 

How is tennis elbow treated?

The majority of tennis elbow treatment is done without any need for surgery. According to the AAOS, 80% to 95% of patients have success with nonsurgical treatment. Your orthopedic surgeon will be able to create a specific, customized treatment plan using the RICE Treatment and NSAIDs to reduce pain and swelling. They may also recommend physical therapy to help strengthen the muscles of the forearm, or using a brace to help relieve symptoms by resting the muscles. If your symptoms do not improve over 6-12 months, steroid injections or elbow surgery may be necessary.