Accessibility Tools

What Is Tennis Elbow?

Tennis elbow (lateral epicondylitis) is an inflammation of the tendons in the lower arm that connect muscle to bone. The most common cause of elbow pain, lateral epicondylitis is not limited to tennis players. This type of tendonitis can affect anyone who performs repetitive gripping activities, especially those that involve using the thumb and first two fingers.

Usually, tennis elbow develops gradually over time. Continually tugging on the tendons in the forearm, such as that which occurs while a player grasps a tennis racket during a serve, can strain the tissue and ultimately lead to the development of microscopic tears.

What does tennis elbow feel like?

The most common symptoms of tennis elbow are pain and tenderness in the bony knob on the outside of the elbow joint. The pain may radiate into the upper or lower arm. While the damage is confined to the elbow, the pain usually intensifies when the corresponding hand is used to:

  • Lift a heavy object
  • Make a fist
  • Grip an object
  • Open a door
  • Shake hands

How is tennis elbow treated?

Oftentimes, lateral epicondylitis will resolve on its own, but the healing process can take up to several months. In the meantime, conservative treatment can be used to manage any discomfort and promote healing. Some options include:

  • Applying an ice pack to the affected elbow to reduce pain and swelling
  • Wearing an elbow strap to help protect the injured tendon from further strain
  • Taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) as needed for pain relief
  • Performing range-of-motion exercises to increase flexibility and reduce stiffness
  • Performing physical therapy to stretch and strengthen the muscles that support the elbow
  • Receiving steroid injections if necessary to relieve severe pain and inflammation

In advanced cases, a surgical procedure may be considered to address symptoms that persist or worsen despite two to four months of conservative treatment. When surgery is appropriate, a surgeon can remove a damaged section of tendon and then repair the remaining tissue.

At Advanced Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine of Houston, Texas, our goal is to help each patient find the least invasive treatment approach that will be effective. To address tennis elbow, we offer a variety of strategies – both conservative and surgical – that can potentially provide symptom relief. If you’d like to consult with one of our experienced elbow pain specialists, contact us. We have several locations throughout Houston, TX, where you can turn for comprehensive advice and treatment.