Tennis elbow, also known as lateral epicondylitis, is a painful condition that occurs on the outside part of the elbow. Although described in tennis players who obtain this condition from a poor backhand stroke, the vast majority of people who suffer from tennis elbow do not play and may have never played tennis. The problem arises from overuse of the arm. It can happen with any sport and even those who don’t participate in any sports.
Lateral epicondylitis is a very specific condition that involves a tendon named the extensor carpi radius brevis (ECRB), which originates on the outside or lateral part of the elbow. With overuse the ECRB tendon can become weak and small microscopic tears begin to appear at the elbow, leading to inflammation and pain. Over time the tendon can even rupture.
Tennis Elbow Symptoms
The symptoms of tennis elbow include pain and burning and sometimes stiffness at the elbow. Many people complain of difficulty even with shaking hands. The symptoms can appear suddenly or gradually, and often several weeks or even months go by before patients seek medical attention.
Tennis Elbow Diagnosis
The doctor makes the diagnosis from the patient’s history and physical exam. An X-ray or MRI is usually not needed unless other causes are suspected.
Treatment of Tennis Elbow
Initial treatments include rest, anti-inflammatory medication, adjusting grip for those who play tennis and attempts at avoiding repetitive activities. Physical therapy and steroid injections may also be used.
Unfortunately, symptoms of tennis elbow can persist even up to a year. While most people improve, a small percentage of patients do not improve. For those patients, surgery is recommended. There are a variety of surgical procedures that have been described for treatment of tennis elbow, including arthroscopy of the elbow. The doctor will discuss these options with you.