You’re feeling pain on the outside of your upper arm, near your elbow, and your internet research is telling you it’s “tennis elbow.” But you don’t play tennis, so how can that be right?
“Tennis elbow, also known by its medical name of lateral epicondylitis, refers to inflammation of the lateral, or outside, portion of the elbow over that bony prominence,” said Marc Rosen, MD, an orthopedic surgeon with Banner Health Clinic in Glendale, Arizona. While commonly called “tennis elbow”, only about 5% of these painful occurrences are tied to playing tennis, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine of the National Institutes of Health (USNLM-NIH).
This – Not Tennis – is Causing your Pain
The true cause of lateral epicondylitis is repetitive overuse of the elbow. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, when you use the muscle that attaches to your elbow bone over and over, small tears develop which leads to irritation and pain at the elbow. “Any activity that produces repetitive stresses on the elbow, while gripping an object firmly with the same hand, can result in lateral epicondylitis,” said Dr. Rosen. “It’s common in carpenters, painters, cooks, dentists and even orthopedic surgeons.”
Lateral epicondylitis is most often seen in middle-aged men and women and afflicts up to 3% of the population, according to the USNLM-NIH.
Remedies for Tennis Elbow
The good news is that healing your lateral epicondylitis is pretty simple even though it requires some patience and diligence.
- Brace for It: If your occupation, sports or exercise activities put you at risk for tennis elbow or cause elbow pain, putting on an elbow brace before engaging in these activities can help relieve pain.
- Stretching and Strengthening: Engaging in regular stretches and exercises of the wrists, forearms and elbows can relieve pain associated with tennis elbow for those who already have the injury or help prevent it in those who are at risk.
- Icing the Elbow: Icing tendons and joints, including those around the elbow, helps reduce pain and swelling.
- Give it a Rest: Because lateral epicondylitis is caused by repetitive movements, you may consider reducing or stopping the activity that caused your tennis elbow, if possible.
“The pain from lateral epicondylitis can be quite disabling, even when doing the most basic activities such as lifting your coffee cup in the morning,” said Dr. Rosen. Physical therapy is one of the most common and successful treatment options and he recommends consulting with your health care provider, orthopedic surgeon or sports medicine specialist to get started.
To find a Banner Health orthopedic care doctor, visit BannerHealth.com.