What Is Tennis Elbow?

Tennis elbow is a condition that causes pain and discomfort in your elbow. It's also known as lateral epicondylitis because it involves the lateral epicondyle. That’s the bony bump on the outer part of your elbow. The hand and upper extremity specialists at North Carolina Orthopaedic Clinic may be able to relieve the pain and discomfort of tennis elbow using a variety of treatment options.

What Causes Tennis Elbow?

Tennis elbow is caused by excessive use of the forearm and the tendons that attach to the lateral epicondyle. When these tendons are overworked, it can lead to inflammation, degeneration, and tears. This condition is typically a result of repetitive motions that slowly add up over time. Some examples of repetitive motions that cause tennis elbow include:

  • Competing in tennis or other racquet sports
  • Typing on a computer
  • Writing by hand
  • Performing manual labor
  • Engaging the forearm muscles more than usual
  • Using hand tools like scissors or a screwdriver
  • Hand sewing
  • Playing the violin, piano, or other musical instruments

Other causes of tennis elbow include the natural aging process, improper alignment of the wrist and elbow, and direct trauma to the elbow.

What Are the Symptoms of Tennis Elbow?

Symptoms of tennis elbow include pain in the elbow or forearm. Pain may increase when turning doorknobs or shaking hands. Weakness in the grip also occurs. It may become difficult or painful to lift or carry heavy objects like grocery sacks, boxes, or bags of garbage.

How Is Tennis Elbow Diagnosed?

At North Carolina Orthopaedic Clinic, diagnosis of tennis elbow may include a physical examination. Our fellowship-trained surgeons may also:

  • Consider any relevant medical history
  • Assess flexibility and range of motion
  • Apply pressure to the lateral epicondyle to determine the extent of your pain
  • Order imaging tests like X-rays or an MRI to rule out other conditions that cause pain and weakness in the arm

What Are Possible Tennis Elbow Treatment Methods?

The goals of treatment for tennis elbow include reducing pain and inflammation, promoting healing, and preventing further damage to the joint. At North Carolina Orthopaedic Clinic, we believe in pursuing the most conservative treatments first. The first remedy for tennis elbow is RICE—rest, ice, compression, and elevation. This may reduce inflammation and pain. Changes in lifestyle may help as well. For example, it’s important to take breaks when performing repetitive motions involving the forearm and elbow. We may also suggest medication to help with the pain and weakness. Over-the-counter drugs can be useful, but if they’re not, we could prescribe something stronger.

The second treatment for tennis elbow is physical therapy. Physical therapists will develop a regimen of exercises to strengthen the forearm muscles. Improving flexibility aids in improving arm function.

The third method of healing involves using a brace or splint to immobilize the elbow. This allows the elbow and forearm to rest and recover from the injury done to them. Bracing helps patients who must perform repetitive motions for their jobs or hobbies or have a history of recurring tennis elbow.

In most cases, use of these three treatment methods are sufficient to allow tennis elbow to heal in 6 to 12 months. However, in more severe cases, it may be necessary to administer steroid injections or perform surgery. Steroid injections may only produce short-term relief. If surgery is required, our expert doctors remove damaged parts of the lateral epicondyle and repair any torn tendons.

Why Do Patients Love North Carolina Orthopaedic Clinic?

Patients appreciate North Carolina Orthopaedic Clinic for a variety of reasons. One of the main reasons is because they have access to our certified physician assistants and expert surgeons. Another reason is because same-day and next-day appointments are usually available. Plus, we don’t require our patients to see a PA first and we always offer the option to see a surgeon. If you experience elbow or forearm pain, contact us to schedule an appointment to see if you have tennis elbow.