Tennis Elbow: Causes, Symptoms and Treatments


Tennis elbow is a common injury that affects the elbow joint, leading to inflammation and pain. The scientific community refers to this condition as lateral epicondylitis, which is the result of repetitive stress.

Since the lateral (i.e., outside) region of the elbow gets affected, patients mostly sense pain in that particular side.

In this article, we will briefly cover the causes, symptoms, and treatment options of tennis elbow.

What causes tennis elbow?

In general, tendons comprise the connection between muscles and bones. In the forearm, the tendons connect the muscles to the outer side of the elbow.

Unfortunately, the repetitive stress applied to these tendons leads to microscopic tears that eventually cause inflammation and pain.

The most commonly affected tendons belong to the extensor carpi radialis brevis muscle.

Activities that may trigger tennis elbow include:

  • Playing tennis and other racquet sports
  • Golfing
  • Swimming
  • The frequent use of screwdrivers, hammers, or computers
  • Turning a key

What are the symptoms of tennis elbow?

Similar to other musculoskeletal injuries, the frequency and severity of tennis elbow symptoms vary between patients.

The most commonly experienced signs and symptoms include:

  • Persistent elbow pain that gradually worsens
  • Painful radiation to the outer side of the forearm and wrist
  • The triggering of pain when shaking someone’s hand or squeezing objects
  • A weak grip

The treatment options of tennis elbow

The treatment options of tennis elbow can be divided into two categories:

Non-surgical treatments

According to reports, 80–95% of tennis elbow cases heal without the need for complex surgical procedures.

To treat this condition, your doctor may recommend the following approaches:

Rest – allowing your elbow to recover is the most effective treatment for tennis elbow since inflammation needs time to fully subside. If you cannot do this on your own, your doctor may use braces to immobilize the affected muscles.

Using ice packs – similar to other injuries, applying cold packs on the site of inflammation can significantly improve your symptoms.

Pharmacological drugs – Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (e.g., ibuprofen, aspirin) are also effective in reducing pain and swelling.

Physical therapy – this treatment involves the strengthening of your forearm muscles to promote healing. Physical therapy uses exercises, massages, and other techniques to stimulate the muscles.

Steroid injections – injecting corticosteroids into the affected muscle can significantly temper down the inflammation, which eventually improves your symptoms.

Surgical treatments

Surgical procedures are left as a last resort when it comes to tennis elbow.

Generally speaking, your doctor may consider surgery when you are not responding to conventional treatments after one year.

The primary two approaches to surgically treat tennis elbow include:

Arthroscopy-mediated surgery – using a scope, your surgeon will remove the damaged tissue and make new attachments between the muscles and bones.

Open surgery – as the name implies, this technique involves making a large incision to perform the surgery.

According to statistics, 80–90% of surgeries are successful.

Takeaway message

Tennis elbow is an extremely common condition that ranges in severity from completely benign to debilitating.

Hopefully, this article managed to shed some light on tennis elbow. If you still have unanswered questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us .

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