Do I Have Tennis Elbow?
Whether you’re an athlete or handy around the house, you may have experienced tennis elbow, also known as lateral epicondylitis.
Tennis elbow, which commonly occurs in people age 40 or older, is soreness on the outside of the upper arm, near the elbow. “It’s been attributed to tennis, but it’s been more commonly seen in activities requiring repetitive elbow and wrist motion, not necessarily tennis,” explains Andrew Cross MD, a hand surgery specialist.
Common Activities That Cause Tennis Elbow
People who perform manual labor jobs, like painters, plumbers and carpenters, are more prone to developing tennis elbow.
On the other hand, people who aren’t conditioned for those types of activities may injure themselves as well, like if someone who never paints decides to paint multiple rooms during the course of a single weekend, for example.
Symptoms of Tennis Elbow
While symptoms vary depending on how you injured the elbow area, they usually 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
Another symptom is pain when lifting objects, “especially if you’re lifting something with your palm down, trying to pick something up off the floor, like a grocery bag, and extending the wrist with your elbow straight. It would cause a lot of pain,” Dr. Cross adds.
Treating Tennis Elbow
Initially, you’ll want to rest your arm and avoid the activity that’s causing pain for up to two or three weeks. You may also want to ice the area a couple times a day, and take anti-inflammatory medications.
At the Doctor’s Office
If at-home remedies don’t work, your doctor would examine the pain-inflicted area to make an appropriate diagnosis and rule out any other orthopedic issues that may be causing your symptoms. “Other things could be a pinched nerve in the area – probably not the acute onset of arthritis in the elbow, or something like that – but it could be something other than tennis elbow,” Dr. Cross explains.
From there, your doctor would develop a treatment plan, depending on how active you are. If you’re an athlete, your plan would likely be more aggressive, including:
- Bi-weekly physical therapy sessions for three or four weeks
- A higher prescription dose of anti-inflammatory medication
- Sports activity modification (changes in technique, checking athletic equipment for issues, or cutting back on how often you play)
“You would even possibly get some sort of injection where the pain is, such as a cortisone injection,” Dr. Cross adds.
If you’re older, or a more sedentary individual, your treatment plan would be less intense, and may include:
- One or two visits of physical therapy
- A home exercise plan
- Activity modification
If the pain continues after six to 12 months of rest and treatment, your doctor may suggest surgery.
Last Updated: October 16, 2013