Tennis elbow, or lateral epicondylitis, is a painful condition of the elbow caused by overuse. Playing tennis or other racquet sports can cause this condition; hence the name, however several other sports and activities can also cause tennis elbow. The condition is an inflammation of the tendons that join the forearm muscles, which can lead to pain and tenderness on the outside of the elbow.
- Overuse:It is often due to damage to a specific forearm muscle: the extensor carpi radialis brevis muscle, which helps stabilize the wrist when the elbow is straight. When the muscle weakens from overuse, microscopic tears form in the tendon where it attaches to the lateral epicondyle, which leads to inflammation and pain. The ECRB may also be at increased risk for damage because of its position. As the elbow bends and straightens, the tendon rubs against bony bumps, which can cause gradual wear and tear of the muscle over time.
- Activities:Athletes are not the only people who experience tennis elbow. Many people with tennis elbow participate in work or recreational activities that require repetitive and vigorous use of the forearm muscle. Painters, plumbers, and carpenters are particularly prone to developing tennis elbow. Studies have shown that auto workers, cooks, and butchers experience tennis elbow more often than the rest of the population due to the repetition and weight lifting required in these occupations leading to injury.
- Age:Most people are between the ages of 30 and 50.
- Unknown:It can occur without any recognized repetitive injury or of unknown cause.
The symptoms of tennis elbow develop gradually. Pain typically begins as mild and slowly worsens over weeks and months with no specific injury associated with the start of symptoms. Common signs and symptoms of tennis elbow include pain or burning on the outer part of the elbow and weak grip strength. Pain is worsened with forearm activity, such as holding a racquet, turning a wrench, or shaking hands and is usually most often in the dominant hand but both arms can be affected.
Approximately 80-95 percent of patients have success with nonsurgical treatment. Nonsurgical methods include:
- Rest: Giving your arm proper rest by stopping participation in sports or heavy work activities for several weeks is the first step to recovery.
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicines: Drugs such as aspirin or ibuprofen reduce pain and swelling
- Physical therapy
- Brace: Using a brace center over the back of the forearm may help relieve symptoms of tennis elbow by resting the muscles and tendons. Raleigh Orthopaedic offers the convenience of durable medical equipment for purchase at all of our clinic locations.
- Steroid injections: Steroids, such as cortisone, are very effective anti-inflammatory medicines. One of Raleigh Orthopaedic’s elbow specialists can inject the area around the lateral epicondyle with a steroid to relieve symptoms.
- Equipment check for proper fit: If you participate in a racquet sport, stiffer racquets and looser-strung racquets often reduce stress on the forearm. Changing to a smaller head racquet may help prevent symptoms from recurring.
If symptoms do not respond after 6 to 12 months of nonsurgical treatments, your Raleigh Orthopaedic physician may recommend surgery. There are several different procedures for tennis elbow and most involve removing diseased muscle and reattaching healthy muscle back to bone. Tennis elbow surgery is considered successful in 80 to 90 percent of patients. Rehabilitation usually takes 6 to 8 weeks with light, gradual strengthening exercise and guided physical therapy after surgery.
Schedule an appointment
Your well-being is important to us. Raleigh Orthopaedic is Wake County’s oldest and most experienced orthopedic practice, serving the Triangle and surrounding regions of central North Carolina since 1919. Click the button below or call us to schedule an appointment with one of our orthopedic specialists. If your injury or condition is recent, you can walk right into one of our Raleigh Orthopaedic Urgent Care locations for immediate care. For rehabilitation and physical therapy, no referral is needed to see one of our physical therapists.