Tennis elbow

Asian man holding sore elbow

Tennis elbow (lateral epicondylitis) is an overuse condition that causes pain and inflammation on the outer upper arm near the elbow. When the muscles in the arm are overused—from playing a sport like tennis or an activity that requires frequent twisting of the wrist—small tears develop in the tendon that attaches the muscle to the elbow bone. 

Tennis elbow is common in all different types of people. It is not necessarily limited to athletes or those who play tennis. We do not fully understand why some people develop this problem and others do not. The good news is this condition almost always resolves on its own but can take up to 12-18 months to feel better.

Tennis elbow symptoms

The symptoms of tennis elbow are caused by the inflammation in the tendon and muscles.

  • Forearm pain

  • Pain and tenderness over the elbow joint that may radiate down the forearm

  • Severe pain when the elbow, wrist and fingers straighten in full extension against resistance  

Initially, symptoms may be activity related but in chronic cases, the pain and tenderness may become constant. 

Tennis elbow diagnosis

Your doctor diagnoses tennis elbow using one or more of the following tests:

  • A physical examination—your doctor will assess your elbow and arm for pain, range of motion and weakness. 

  • MRI scans—an imaging test that produces pictures of the bones and soft tissue in the elbow.

  • X-rays—an imaging test that looks at the bones and other structures in the elbow.

Tennis elbow treatment 

Most patients do not require surgery. Depending on your symptoms, your doctor may prescribe one or more of the following treatments: 

  • Anti-inflammatory medications— medications that reduce swelling and inflammation in the elbow joint. 

  • Bracing—wearing a brace centered on the back of your forearm to allow the muscles and tendons to rest. 

  • Exercises—exercises that strengthen the forearm muscles and relieve symptoms. 

  • Physical therapy—a therapist uses ice massage, muscle-stimulating techniques or ultrasound to help the muscle heal. 

  • Rest—avoiding activities and sports (for at least two weeks) that cause symptoms to flare up.

  • Surgery—in rare cases, surgery may be needed to treat tennis elbow.  

If you are experiencing pain in your elbow or forearm, take action now. At The Christ Hospital Health Network, our orthopedic specialists have the experience and skill to diagnose your elbow pain correctly and provide effective treatment.

Find an elbow specialist near you.