Tennis Elbow Symptoms, Causes, and Treatments

Published July 31, 2023

Tennis elbow, also known as lateral epicondylitis, is a painful condition that occurs when the tendons that attach the forearm muscles to the elbow become inflamed or torn. This can happen from repetitive use of the forearm muscles, such as when you tightly grip a tennis racket or other object.

According to the US Tennis Association, more than 23.6 million Americans participated in tennis in 2022. However, people who don't play tennis, or similar sports such as badminton, racquetball, and pickleball, can get tennis elbow. Approximately 1 to 3% of adults are affected by tennis elbow each year.

tennis elbow pain

Symptoms of Tennis Elbow

How do you know if you have tennis elbow? Tennis elbow typically presents with the following symptoms:

Pain: The most common symptom of tennis elbow is pain on the outside of the elbow. The pain is usually worse when you use the forearm muscles, such as when you lift, grip, or turn your wrist. In some cases, the pain can also radiate down the forearm to the wrist.

Weakness: You may experience weakness in their grip, making it difficult to hold or carry objects.

Stiffness: The elbow may feel stiff, especially after rest or inactivity.

Pain during activity: Pain can intensify during activities that involve wrist movements, such as shaking hands, turning a doorknob, or gripping a racquet or tool.

Worsening over time: Without proper treatment, the pain and symptoms of tennis elbow may worsen over time, impacting daily life and work.

anatomy of tennis elbow

Causes of Tennis Elbow

Despite its name, tennis elbow is not limited to tennis players and can affect anyone who repeatedly uses their forearm muscles. Golfers, people who practice yoga, and even musicians can suffer from tennis elbow. The condition typically arises due to overuse and strain on the forearm tendons, leading to inflammation and even microtears in the tendon tissue. Some common causes include:

Repetitive arm motion: Engaging in activities that involve repetitive arm motion, such as playing tennis, painting, typing, or using hand tools, can strain the forearm muscles and lead to tennis elbow.

Poor technique: In tennis or other sports, improper technique or using equipment that is not suited to your body can contribute to the development of tennis elbow.

Age and occupation: As we age, tendons become less flexible and more prone to injury. Certain occupations that involve repetitive arm movements or heavy lifting can increase the risk of developing tennis elbow.

Overexertion: Pushing yourself too hard during physical activities or sports without proper rest and recovery can lead to overuse injuries like tennis elbow.

Treatment Options

The treatment for tennis elbow depends on the severity of the condition. In mild cases, rest, ice, and over-the-counter pain relievers may be enough to relieve the pain and allow the elbow to heal.

In more severe cases, you may need to see a doctor. Your doctor may recommend physical therapy, which can help to strengthen the forearm muscles and reduce the pain. Some example of PT include:

Physical therapy takes time, but many patients see improvements after several sessions. However, surgery may be necessary to treat tennis elbow in some cases.

How To Prevent Tennis Elbow

As the saying goes, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” There are a few simple things you can do to help prevent tennis elbow, including:

  • Warm up before you start an activity that uses the forearm muscles.

  • Use proper technique when you participate in activities.

  • Take breaks when you start to feel pain in your elbow.

  • Strengthen the forearm muscles with exercises.

  • Stretch your hands, wrists, arms, and shoulders.

If you have elbow pain, we can help.

Tennis elbow (lateral epicondylitis) may be a painful and limiting condition, but with the right approach to treatment and prevention, many individuals can recover fully and resume their normal activities. If you experience symptoms of tennis elbow, schedule an appointment to get an accurate diagnosis and develop an appropriate treatment plan. By understanding the symptoms, causes, and treatment options of tennis elbow, you can take steps to protect yourself from this common overuse injury and continue enjoying an active lifestyle.