Kent Chou, MD, is an orthopedic hand surgeon on staff at Banner Estrella Medical Center who specializes in the treatment of hand, wrist, and elbow disorders. His office can be reached at (623) 846-7614.
Question: I’ve been experiencing a nagging pain in my elbow and a friend said my symptoms remind her of when she had tennis elbow. What is tennis elbow and how is it treated?
Answer: Tennis elbow, or lateral epicondylitis, is a very common condition caused by repetitive or overuse of certain muscles in the forearm. Although it can certainly be seen in tennis players, the condition usually develops in individuals who perform repetitive elbow, forearm, and wrist movements, especially when accompanied by gripping or lifting. At risk individuals may include athletes, painters, plumbers, carpenters, mechanics, cooks, and butchers. Most people who develop tennis elbow are between the ages of 30 and 50.
Repetitive or overuse of these forearm muscles leads to microscopic tears to the tendons which insert on the outer part of the elbow, which typically results in pain on the outside of the elbow, soreness in the forearm, and decreased grip strength. This may be particularly noticeable during gripping and lifting, or even with simple activities such as shaking hands. Symptoms may start suddenly, or may develop gradually over time.
The pain associated with tennis elbow usually goes away over time. Avoidance of lifting with the elbow straight and the palm down is a simple but often effective treatment. Other simple treatments include rest, ice, activity modification, anti-inflammatory medications, and tennis elbow or counterforce straps, which can be purchased at most drug stores. Physical therapy and cortisone injections can also be effective when simpler treatments fail to provide relief. If symptoms persist despite several months of nonsurgical care, surgery may be considered, and is usually very effective in relieving the pain associated with tennis elbow.
If you have elbow pain or weakness which has not responded to some of the treatments mentioned above, make an appointment with your health care provider to confirm the diagnosis and to formulate a treatment plan.