Tennis elbow?

Originally Published: June 1, 2001
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What is tennis elbow?

Dear Reader,

You don't have to be in the same league as Serena and Venus Williams to get tennis elbow. Tennis elbow, medically known as epicondylitis (the inflammation or injury of the tendons that are responsible for wrist movement), is caused by forceful, repetitive wrist motions. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), tennis elbow is most often found in people whose jobs require continuous exertion of the elbow and wrist. Although a killer serve could be the culprit, epicondylitis might be more accurately named mechanic's or carpenter's elbow.

Symptoms of tennis elbow include:

  • pain on the outside of the forearm, below the elbow
  • difficulty straightening the affected arm
  • having trouble gripping and lifting objects with the affected hand

Treatment for tennis elbow usually consists of rest and ice. Depending on the level of pain and/or swelling, health care providers may prescribe non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs, such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and ketoprofen), inject corticosteroids, or use ultrasound to help alleviate these symptoms. Less than 3 percent of folks with tennis elbow require surgery to repair tendon damage.

Once you're on the mend, your provider may recommend strength training of the forearm to speed recovery and reduce the chance of a tennis elbow rematch. Common exercises include squeezing a tennis ball with the affected hand or lifting small hand weights. Be sure to get the OK from your provider before starting any exercise routine — too much, too soon can aggravate already inflamed tendons and keep you benched.

The American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine suggests the following tips to prevent tennis elbow:

  • Warm up muscles before putting them to strenuous use, and have them stay toasty while working or playing.
  • Select appropriate equipment and make sure they are well maintained. Handles that don't fit comfortably (are too big or too small for your hand), or racquets that are strung incorrectly, can increase elbow and wrist strain.
  • Train for your sport or job by strengthening and stretching the muscles you use most often.
  • Have an expert (e.g., your coach, foreman, or another trusted advisee) evaluate your technique to make sure that you're using the tools or equipment properly.