Tendons are tough bands of connective tissue which connect muscle to bone. When the muscles that attach tendons to the bone on the outside (lateral) part of the elbow are overworked and the attachment degenerates, tennis elbow (lateral epicondylitis) develops.
Symptoms of Tennis Elbow
Pain is the primary reason patients seek medical evaluation. The pain is located over the outside aspect of the elbow over the bone region known as the lateral epicondyle. This area becomes tender to touch. Pain is also produced by any activity that places stress on the tendon. With activity, the pain usually starts at the elbow and may radiate down the forearm to the hand.
Tennis elbow is muscle injury that develops over time from muscle overuse. Repetitive motions, such as gripping a racket while swinging, can put constant stress on the tendons, causing microscopic tears.
Tennis elbow may result from sports, such as:
Not limited to sports alone, tennis elbow may also occur in patients with occupations or hobbies that also require repetitive arm movements, such as:
Treatment for Tennis Elbow
Tennis elbow can typically be resolved using non-surgical methods of treatment that include:
- Icing the elbow 20 to 30 minutes every three to four hours for a couple of days or until the pain is gone
- Performing exercises to increase range of motion, reduce stiffness and improve flexibility
- Physical therapy to stretch the muscles, specifically in the forearm
- Receiving steroid injections to temporarily ease pain and swelling around the joint
- Platelet-rich plasma therapy, an injection of plasma with highly concentrated amounts of platelets to potentially speed the healing process
- Taking over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications, such as ibuprofen (i.e., Advil®), naproxen (i.e., Aleve®) or aspirin
In severe cases, surgery may be an option for patients who have not improved within six to 12 months of conservative therapy. Surgical options for tennis elbow may involve:
- Cutting (releasing) the affected tendon
- Removing inflamed tissue from the tendon
- Repairing tendon tears without overstretching the tendon