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Tennis Elbow: What Is It? Do You Need Treatment?

Author: Rosemary Buckle, M.D.

You might be surprised to learn that tennis elbow is the third most common orthopedic injury in the U.S., according to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons. Are there really even enough tennis players to keep up those numbers?

No, there are not! And that’s one of the first things your Houston sports medicine physician might tell you if you come in with symptoms of tennis elbow: you don’t have to be a tennis player to develop this injury. In fact, fewer than 5% of tennis elbow diagnoses are the result of playing tennis!

What is tennis elbow?

Tennis elbow (lateral epicondylitis) is an overuse injury that causes pain and inflammation in the forearm’s tendons on the outside of the elbow. It was originally named, of course, after the tennis players who developed it from endless drills and matches.

Tennis elbow typically develops from one of the four following causes:

  1. Overuse: Certain motions, such as a tennis groundstroke, cause microscopic tissue tears, which can lead to pain and inflammation.
  2. Occupation/Activities: Some non-athletic activities are quite taxing on the forearm. Painting, woodworking and preparing food are a few of the tasks that can lead to tennis elbow, especially when they are a part of a person’s occupation.
  3. Age: Most cases of tennis elbow appear in adults between the ages of 30 and 50.
  4. Idiopathic: Lastly, the cause of some tennis elbow cases is unknown.

What are the symptoms of tennis elbow?

If you experience any of the following symptoms, see your Houston sports medicine physician or primary care doctor, as these signs and symptoms could indicate tennis elbow:

  • Weak grip strength
  • Pain or burning sensation on the outer part of the elbow

These symptoms may worsen when using your forearm. Also, note that it’s typical for the dominant arm to be affected; however, tennis elbow can develop in both arms or the non-dominant arm.

What are the risk factors for tennis elbow?

You may be at risk for developing tennis elbow if you are between 30 and 50 years old and:

  • Play baseball
  • Golf
  • Bowl
  • Work as a janitor, carpenter, landscaper, gardener or mechanic
  • Work on an assembly line

How is tennis elbow diagnosed?

There are no tests for making a definitive diagnosis of tennis elbow. In diagnosing your forearm pain, your Houston orthopedic doctor will ask you to describe your symptoms, discuss any potential risk factors, and will perform some range of motion tests. Imaging tests may be helpful for ruling out other issues.

How is tennis elbow treated?

A significant majority of patients have their tennis elbow resolved non-surgically. Common non-surgical therapies include RICE, NSAIDs, braces, steroid injections, and proper sports equipment fitting. Surgery is usually not necessary.

Schedule With a Houston Sports Medicine Doctor

For forearm pain treatment and other Houston sports medicine needs, schedule an appointment at Houston Institute for Sports Medicine & Orthopedics by calling (713) 756-5546. You can also schedule your appointment online.

Please consult with your physician before undertaking any form of medical treatment or adopting any exercise program or dietary guidelines.