Tennis elbow is soreness or pain on the outer part of the elbow. It happens when you damage the tendons that connect the muscles of your forearm to your elbow. The pain may spread down your arm to your wrist. If you don't treat the injury, it may hurt to do simple things like turn a key or open a door.
Your doctor may call this condition lateral epicondylitis.
Most of the time tennis elbow is caused by overuse. You probably got it from doing activities where you twist your arm over and over. This can stress the tendon, causing tiny tears that in time lead to pain. A direct blow to the outer elbow can also cause tendon damage.
Tennis elbow is common in tennis players, but most people get it from other activities that work the same muscles, such as gardening, painting, or using a screwdriver. It is often the result of using equipment that is the wrong size or using it the wrong way.
Anyone can get tennis elbow, but it usually occurs in people in their 40s.
To diagnose tennis elbow, a doctor will examine your elbow and ask questions about the elbow problem, your daily activities, and past injuries. You probably won't need to have an X-ray, but you might have one to help rule out other things that could be causing the pain.
If your symptoms don't get better with treatment, you might have an imaging test, such as an MRI. This can tell your doctor whether a bone problem or tissue damage is causing your symptoms.
You can start treating tennis elbow at home right away.
- Rest your arm, and avoid any activity that makes the pain worse.
- As soon as you notice pain, use ice or cold packs for 10 to 15 minutes at a time, several times a day. Always put a thin cloth between the ice and your skin. Keep using ice as long as it relieves pain. Or use a warm, moist cloth or take hot baths if they feel good. Do what works for you.
- Take over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen or naproxen (NSAIDs) or acetaminophen if you need them. Or try an NSAID cream that you rub over the sore area. Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
- Wear a counterforce brace when you need to grasp or twist something. This is a strap around your forearm worn around your forearm just below the elbow. It may ease the pressure on the tendon and spread force throughout your arm.