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Tennis elbow (lateral epicondylitis)

What is Tennis Elbow?

Tennis elbow, or lateral epicondylitis, is an inflammation of the tendons that join the forearm muscles on the outside of the elbow. Racket sports like tennis and pickleball tend to be a major cause for this injury and elbow pain, but any heavy use of the elbow with repetitive gripping and lifting can be a cause of this condition. It is a common work-related injury for plumbers, painters, carpenters, mechanics, and butchers. Generally, lateral epicondylitis develops gradually, but at times can occur acutely from an injury.


  • Extended use in activity
  • Wear and tear of overuse
  • Improper equipment in sports like tennis

Risk Factors

  • History of rheumatoid arthritis
  • History of nerve disease
  • Most often the dominant arm is primarily affected

Tennis Elbow Symptoms

  • Tenderness in the outer elbow
  • Burning in elbow
  • Pain and weakness when using the affected elbow
  • Pain with resistance
  • Pain/wekness with gripping/lifting

Diagnosis and treatment

Several factors are considered by the doctors when making the diagnosis, including history of related injury, use, and health. Tests such as x-ray may be utilized to rule out other possible causes for elbow pain, such as arthritis or a fracture. The majority of tennis elbow treatment is done without surgery.

Nonsurgical treatment options include:

  • Short period of rest
  • Keep your elbow moving to prevent stiffness
  • Avoid aggravating activities such as lifting/forceful gripping
  • Short term nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAID’s)
  • Massage to painful area to increase blood flow and desensitize
  • Stretching exercises to maintain flexibility of the elbow and wrist
  • Topical anti-inflammatory/pain relief creams
  • Compressive elbow wrap
  • Wrist brace
  • Acupuncture
  • Physical therapy

The vast majority of cases will resolve with this type of treatment, but symptoms may last for 6 – 12 months or longer.