Tennis elbow, or lateral epicondylitis, causes inflammation and pain in the outer portion of the elbow, where the tendons and forearm muscles meet the humerus (the bone in the upper arm). Tennis elbow can affect anyone; in fact, about 80 percent of people who get tennis elbow aren’t actually tennis players. The same symptom on the inside of the elbow is a condition known as “golfer’s elbow,” or medial epicondylitis.
A repetitive gripping motion causes both tennis elbow and golfer’s elbow. Working on a computer, doing yard or housework or playing racquet sports are all common causes of tennis elbow.
The most common symptoms of tennis elbow are:
• Slowly increasing pain around the outside of the elbow.
• Increasing pain when gripping or squeezing an object.
• Pain when opening jars, lifting or handling small utensils.
To prevent tennis elbow, use these tips:
• Rearrange your workspace to make it more ergonomic. A physical therapist can help provide tips on how to set up your work area.
• If you do play tennis or golf, have a professional coach evaluate your technique to ensure your posture and technique isn’t causing unnecessary stress on your elbow.
• Stretch and strengthen the muscles in the shoulder and upper arm to help alleviate stress on the elbow.
• When possible, alternate hands when doing repetitive activities.
• Use a counterforce brace around the forearm, just below the elbow to help distribute pressure throughout the arm, alleviating stress on the elbow.
Tennis elbow should be treated as soon as symptoms appear. Continual use and strain of the injured and inflamed tendons can cause scar tissue to build up inside the elbow. If you experience any of the symptoms above, try these home treatment tips for tennis elbow:
• Avoid activities that cause pain, allowing the tendons to rest and recover.
• Stretch to alleviate tension on the tendons caused by tight muscles. To stretch, hold your arm straight out, palm down. Using your other hand, press down on your injured arm’s fingers, pointing them to the ground. Next, turn your hand palm up, and use your other hand to pull your fingers toward your wrist.
• Ice the elbow to reduce inflammation.
If you are experiencing pain in your elbow that you think might be tennis elbow, talk to your physician. Some cases of tennis elbow may require physical therapy to improve strength in the arm and reduce pain associated with inflamed and irritated tendons.