Tennis Elbow

What is tennis elbow?

The medical term for tennis elbow is lateral epicondylitis, because it affects the outside of the elbow bone called the lateral epicondyle.

The cause of the problem is due to the pulling on the periosteum, a membrane that lines the outer surface the bone by the tendons of the chronically tight muscles of the extensor muscles of the forearm.

Tendon damage can occur after a single incident, such as lifting something very heavy, causing a tear in the tendon.

But the most common cause is repeated overuse of the arm. This overuse causes tiny tears (called micro tears) in the tendon and can worsen if you continue doing the activity that triggered the pain don't rest your arm. If you continue aggravating the injury you may get a more serious tear or even rupture your tendon.

Causes and risk factors

Playing tennis three times in a week when you haven't played for some time is the sort of overuse that could cause tennis elbow. But most people who develop tennis elbow have not been playing tennis. A range of different activities that involve repeated hand, wrist and forearm movements can be the cause. These include:

  • using a computer mouse (especially if you have poor arm and neck posture)                                                                                       
  • using a computer keyboard
  • using vibrating equipment, such as strimmers or jack hammers
  • using scissors or shears
  • gardening
  • manual occupations that involve repetitive twisting and lifting of the wrist - including plumbing, bricklaying and use of a screwdriver
  • playing musical instruments such as the violin


The main symptom is pain and tenderness on the outside of the elbow and sometimes in the muscles on top of the forearm. Tennis elbow usually affects the arm of your dominant hand (right arm if you are right-handed) because this is the arm you use the most.

The symptoms usually develop gradually. The pain may go away after a day or so. But if you repeat the activity that triggered the pain, it may get worse as you will increase the damage to your tendon. The pain may become constant and even interrupt your sleep.

Other symptoms include:

  • your affected arm feels stiff in the morning and painful when you turn door handles or shake hands
  • your affected arm feels weak and heavy
  • pain or stiffness in other parts of your affected arm, or your shoulder or neck, as your body tries to compensate for the weakness in your elbow


On initial symptoms, apply an ice pack - to reduce the pain and any swelling or inflammation, by placing your elbow in ice water for 10 minutes or by using an ice pack (a bag of frozen peas will do) for 10 to 30 minutes. Don't apply the ice pack directly to your skin because it can cause cold injury - place a cloth between the ice and skin. Repeat every couple of hours as needed for the next 48 hours, allowing your arm to warm up between ice sessions.

This should be followed by deep tissue massage, to help release tight muscles to reduce and eliminate the pull on the tendons at the elbow and eliminate or reduce the pain.

This should then be followed by improving your technique at sports, correcting posture and other activities to help prevent further injuries.


Tags:  Injuries, Sports
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