Tennis elbow is a type of tendinitis (inflammation of the tendons) that usually causes pain in the elbow region of the arm. It’s usually caused by repetitive or strenuous activities, such as playing racquet sports like tennis. But even those who don’t play tennis can suffer from tennis elbow–it can also be caused by activities like gardening, typing on a computer, using scissors, weightlifting, or playing the violin.
Symptoms of tennis elbow develop over time and include pain or a burning sensation on the outside of your elbow, which may travel to the upper or lower arm. Weakened grip strength is also a symptom. Both arms can be affected by tennis elbow. The condition usually appears in people aged 30 to 50 but if you have certain risk factors, you can develop it at any age. Playing tennis with improper equipment or bad form is a risk factor for tennis elbow.
To determine if you have tennis elbow, visit your doctor. Your doctor will use various tests as part of the examination process. He or she may ask you to straighten or bend your wrist, for example. If you cannot do so, you may have tennis elbow. Your doctor might also recommend additional tests such as an X-ray, an MRI scan, or an EMG test.
Treating tennis elbow is not difficult; around 80% to 95% of patients recover without the need for surgery. Here are some ways to treat tennis elbow:
- The first thing you should do for tennis elbow is to rest the affected area. Do not participate in sporting activities or manual labor for a few weeks.
- Another way to treat tennis elbow is via anti-inflammatory medications such as aspirin or ibuprofen.
- Physical therapy is another option. Various exercises can be done to rehabilitate your arm.
- Using ice on the affected area is also a good treatment method.
- A brace or elbow strap, adjusted over the back of your forearm, may help relieve symptoms as well.
- Steroids such as cortisone may be recommended by your doctor as a treatment method.
If after 6 to 12 months of treatment your symptoms persist, your doctor may recommend surgery. Most surgical treatments involve the removal of muscle tissue.
The most common surgery for tennis elbow is called open surgery. An incision will be made over the elbow. It’s a quick procedure that does not usually require you to stay overnight at the hospital.
Arthroscopic surgery is another method that involves making small incisions in the affected region. It is a similar process to open surgery and does not require an overnight hospital stay.
After surgery, your doctor may ask you to wear a splint which will be removed a week later. When the splint is removed, you will need to slowly start exercising the elbow to restore normal function. You may need to do some physical therapy to restore complete function. 4 to 6 months after surgery, you may be able to resume recreational sport as usual.
If you regularly rest your arms and wrists during repetitive activity, you can minimize your chances of ever developing tennis elbow.