Tennis elbow (lateral epicondylitis)

Tennis elbow (lateral epicondylitis)

Repetitive motion of the wrist while playing tennis is the common cause of this condition but although its name suggests it, this condition is not exclusive to tennis players. Other repetitive gripping activities can also be the cause of tennis elbow, including painting, gardening or even frequent computer mouse use.

Our specialists at Schoen Clinic London will help you to relieve your elbow pain. Together we will discuss which treatment is best for your symptoms.

Understanding your elbow

The elbow joint is the point of articulation between the upper arm and the forearm. It is made up of three bones, the humerus (upper arm bone) and the radius and ulna, which together form the forearm. The elbow joint is held together by muscles, tendons and ligaments, which all work in partnership to provide function and mobility to the elbow.

What is tennis elbow?

Tennis elbow is a chronic degeneration of the tendons on the outside of the elbow. In cases of tennis elbow, the tendons that connect the forearm muscles to the outer elbow (the lateral epicondyle) become inflamed and this can cause pain. There are many different treatment options available and up to 90% of cases can be treated effectively without surgery.

Tennis elbow symptoms

The symptoms of tennis elbow usually begin to appear gradually, as the condition is a progressive one, rather than related to an acute injury. As the condition progresses, the associated pain gradually increases over the course of a few weeks or months.

  • Mild pain on the outer elbow, gradually increasing over time
  • Weakness in grip
  • Usually only the dominant arm is affected
  • Pain worsens with activity

What causes tennis elbow?

Tennis elbow most often occurs with overuse of the forearm muscle. As the muscle repeatedly contracts each time you straighten your arm, it can cause a strain on the tendon which attaches it to the outside of the elbow. Over time, this repeated action can cause small tears in the tendon, which become painful and inflamed as the condition progresses. This is a common movement in many sports and activities including tennis, shaking hands, pouring water and typing on a keyboard.

There are several risk factors which may make you more susceptible to experiencing tennis elbow. The first and most obvious relates to physical activity. Participating in sports that require repetitive strain on your forearm muscle will of course be a factor. Age can be an indicator as the condition is most common in adults between 30 and 50 years old, though it does affect people of all ages. Occupation is another important factor as painters, butchers, plumbers and other professions also require some degree of repeated motion in the forearm.

How we diagnose tennis elbow?

Diagnosis is usually confirmed by clinical examination. However, an X-ray may be requested to exclude other causes of elbow pain. Often an ultrasound scan is performed if an acute tendon tear or calcium deposits within the tendon are suspected. If an instability is suspected an MRI might be helpful to clarify the diagnosis.