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Tennis Elbow (Lateral Epicondylitis)

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Tennis elbow is a type of tendinitis -- swelling of the tendons -- that causes pain in the elbow and arm. These tendons are bands of tough tissue that connect the muscles of your lower arm to the bone. Despite its name, you can still get tennis elbow even if you've never been near a tennis court. Instead, any repetitive gripping activities, especially if they use the thumb and first two fingers, may contribute to tennis elbow. Tennis elbow is the most common reason that people see their doctors for elbow pain. It can pop up in people of any age, but it's most common at about age 40.

The Causes of Tennis Elbow

Tennis elbow usually develops over time. Repetitive motions -- like gripping a racket during a swing -- can strain the muscles and put too much stress on the tendons. That constant tugging can eventually cause microscopic tears in the tissue.

Tennis elbow might result from:

  • Tennis
  • Racquetball
  • Squash
  • Fencing
  • Weight lifting

It can also affect people with jobs or hobbies that require repetitive arm movements or gripping such as:

  • Carpentry
  • Typing
  • Painting
  • Raking
  • Knitting

Symptoms of Tennis Elbow

The symptoms of tennis elbow include pain and tenderness in the bony knob on the outside of your elbow. This knob is where the injured tendons connect to the bone. The pain may also radiate into the upper or lower arm. Although the damage is in the elbow, you're likely to hurt when doing things with your hands.

Tennis elbow may cause the most pain when you:

  • Lift something
  • Make a fist or grip an object, such as a tennis racket
  • Open a door or shake hands
  • Raise your hand or straighten your wrist

Tennis elbow is similar to another condition called golfer's elbow, which affects the tendons on the inside of the elbow.

To diagnose your tennis elbow, your doctor will do a thorough exam. He or she will want you to flex your arm, wrist, and elbow to see where it hurts. You may also need imaging tests, such as an X-ray or MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) to diagnose tennis elbow or rule out other problems.

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