Tennis elbow is an inflammation, soreness, or pain on the outside (lateral) side of the upper arm near the elbow. There may be a partial tear of the tendon fibers, which connect muscle to bone, at or near their point of origin on the outside of the elbow.
Epitrochlear bursitis; Lateral epicondylitis; Epicondylitis - lateral
This injury is due to repeated motions of the wrist or forearm. The injury is typically associated with tennis playing, hence the name "tennis elbow." However, any activity that involves repetitive twisting of the wrist (like using a screwdriver) can lead to this condition.
- Elbow pain that gradually worsens
- Pain radiating from the outside of the elbow to the forearm and back of the hand when grasping or twisting
- Weak grasp
Exams and Tests
The diagnosis is made by clinical signs and symptoms, since x-rays are usually normal. Often there will be pain or tenderness when the tendon is gently pressed near where it attaches to the upper arm bone, over the outside of the elbow
There is also pain near the elbow when the wrist is extended (bent backwards, like revving a motorcycle engine) against resistance.
The goal of treatment is to relieve pain and swelling. Treatment may include:
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (such as ibuprofen, naproxen or aspirin)
- Local injection of cortisone and an numbing medicine
- Using a splint to keep the forearm and elbow still for 2 to 3 weeks
- Heat therapy
- Physical therapy
- Pulsed ultrasound to break up scar tissue, promote healing, and increase blood flow in the area
To prevent the injury from happening again, a splint may be worn during aggravating activities. Or, you may need to limit certain activities. If the pain persists despite non-surgical treatments, surgery may be necessary.
Most people improve with non-surgical treatment. The majority of those that do have surgery show an improvement in symptoms.
- Recurrence of the injury with overuse
- Rupture of the tendon with repeated steroid injections
- Failure to improve with nonoperative or operative treatment; these may be due to nerve entrapment in the forearm
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Apply home treatment (over-the-counter anti-inflammatory analgesics and immobilization) if symptoms are mild or if you have had this disorder before and you know this is what you have.
Call for an appointment with your health care provider if this is the first time you have had these symptoms, or if home treatment does not relieve the symptoms.
Maintain good strength and flexibility in the arm muscles or avoid repetitive motions. Rest the elbow when flexion and extension is painful. An ice pack applied to the outside of the elbow after repetitive motion may help alleviate symptoms.
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