Achy Elbow? You May Have Tendonitis, Also Known as Tennis Elbow

Achy elbow, also known as Tennis Elbow

Does your elbow feel unusually tender? It may be a sign that you have Tennis Elbow. It can be caused by a sport or work related activity with the overuse of your arm, and can lead to chronic pain if not treated properly.

What is Tennis Elbow and what are its symptoms?

Commonly known as “Tennis Elbow,” this painful condition is caused by the inflammation of the tendons and muscles on the outside of the elbow. Medically known as lateral epicondylitis, it occurs when there is damage near the elbow joint, typically in the form of micro tears.

This form of tendonitis is most often caused by overuse of the hands, wrists, and forearm muscles, and is commonly associated with leisure or work related activities that require repetitive movements. You may begin experiencing this after you’ve participated in an activity, whether work related or hobby, which has you using your hands and arms much more than usual. 

The symptoms of Tennis Elbow include an increase in pain and achiness around the outside of the elbow. Pain can be either gradual or sudden, and can sometimes spread to your forearm and wrist.

You will notice the pain worsen when you grasp or squeeze an object, particularly so, if it’s something small such as a toothbrush, pen, or utensils. You may also notice pain when you are applying force, such as when opening a jar lid, turning a door knob, or when lifting items. As a result, you may notice weakened grip strength.

In most cases, the dominant arm is affected, although there is a chance that the non-dominate arm or even both arms are affected together. Alternatively, there are similar conditions that affect slightly different areas of the elbow, including medial epicondylitis (inside of the elbow) and posterior epicondylities (back of the elbow). 

Who is susceptible to developing Tennis Elbow?

Although Tennis Elbow does affect people who play tennis (as the names suggests), any number of activities that require repeated use of the arms and hands can put you at a higher risk of developing this condition.

People who work in the plumbing, carpentry, auto repair, painting, or butchering professions and who find themselves turning, twisting, or making repeat up-and-down or side-to-side motions are particularly prone to developing Tennis Elbow.

Even leisurely activities and hobbies such as gardening, cooking, playing music, bowling, or rowing can lead to the development of this condition.

Available treatments

If left untreated, Tennis Elbow can lead to chronic pain. However, a proper diagnosis is still required by your doctor before being prescribed treatment and to rule out any other major elbow conditions.

The good news is that many patients suffering from Tennis Elbow have success with non-surgical treatments. The first step is to discontinue the activity that is believed to be the cause of Tennis Elbow and allow those muscles and tendons to rest. Applying ice packs to the affected area and taking anti-inflammatory drugs can help alleviate pain and internal inflammation.

Other options include wearing a forearm brace to rest the muscles and tendons, engaging in physical therapy to stretch and strengthen the muscles and tendons around the injured elbow, or opting to receive a steroid injection to reduce inflammation.

In the event that surgery is required, there are arthroscopic and open surgical treatments that will remove, repair, or reconstruct the cartilage or ligament within the elbow joint.  

To speak with one of our orthopedic specialists about the treatments available for Tennis Elbow or to make an appointment, click on the links below.

By Dr. Winyou Ratanachai, Orthopaedist, Orthopaedic Center, Bumrungrad Hospital

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Posted by Bumrungrad International