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Tennis Elbow (Lateral Epicondylitis)

What Is Tennis Elbow?

Tennis elbow is a condition caused by inflammation of the tendons that attach the extensor carpi radialis brevis to the outer bony prominence (lateral epicondyle) of the elbow. Certain repetitive movements of the wrist can cause this condition. Tennis elbow can occur in anyone who strains the tendons of the forearm and is not limited to tennis players. Tennis elbow is also called lateral epicondylitis.

What Causes Tennis Elbow?

  • Any repetitive motion of the wrist, including tennis, hedge clipping, excessive use of a hammer or screwdriver, painting, or any activity that requires excessive constant gripping or squeezing can cause tennis elbow.
  • In the game of tennis, the following maneuvers can lead to tennis elbow:
    • One-handed backhand with poor form or technique
    • A late forehand swing resulting in bending the wrist significantly
    • Snapping and turning the wrist while serving with full power

What Are Tennis Elbow Symptoms and Signs?

  • Tenderness on the outside of the elbow
  • Morning stiffness of the elbow with persistent aching
  • Soreness of the forearm muscles
  • Elbow pain is worse when grasping or holding an object

When Should Someone Seek Medical Care for Tennis Elbow?

Tennis elbow does not usually lead to serious problems. If the condition continues and is left untreated, however, loss of motion or loss of function of the elbow and forearm can develop.

Call your health care professional if the following conditions develop:

  • Pain that limits your daily activity
  • Pain that lasts despite ice, resting, and over-the-counter anti-inflammatory pain relievers
  • Any weakness or numbness in the hand, which may mean you have another type of injury in the wrist or elbow

How Do Health Care Professionals Diagnose Tennis Elbow?

Your doctor may use any or all of the following to diagnose lateral epicondylitis:

  • In taking your medical history, the doctor may ask you questions about your activity level, occupation, recent recreational activities, medications, and other medical problems.
  • During the physical exam, your doctor will feel your elbow and possibly other joints. Your nerves, muscles, bones, and skin are also examined.
  • X-ray images may be required if the symptoms suggest another problem in the elbow joint.
  • Nerve studies may be needed to look for entrapment of the radial nerve in the elbow joint (radial tunnel syndrome) if your symptoms continue despite aggressive treatment.
  • It is unlikely your doctor will need to perform blood tests, a CT scan, or an MRI to make the diagnosis, but these may be used to rule out other conditions in certain cases.
Last Reviewed 9/11/2017

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Tennis elbow is a common cause of elbow pain.

Causes of Elbow Pain

There are many causes of elbow pain. Most are due to overuse or strain placed on the joint, usually due to work, sports, hobbies, or accidents. Common causes of elbow pain include the following:

  • Sprains and strains: Sprains are stretching and/or tearing of ligaments that connect two bones together, while a strain is a stretching or tearing of the muscle or tendon (a tendon is fibrous tissue that attaches muscle to bone due to excessive force).
  • Tendinitis: Inflammation and/or irritation of the tendons that attach muscles to bones in the elbow is usually due to overuse.
  • Bursitis: Inflammation of the bursae (fluid-filled sac that cushions bones in the elbow)
  • Tennis elbow: Also termed lateral epicondylitis, this is due to tendon inflammation of the muscles of the forearm where they attach to the outer elbow joint.

Read What Your Physician is Reading on Medscape

Lateral Epicondylitis »

Lateral epicondylitis, or tennis elbow, is a commonly encountered problem in orthopedic practice.

Read More on Medscape Reference »

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