When Should I Call the Doctor About Tennis Elbow?

Medically Reviewed by Tyler Wheeler, MD on December 18, 2020

Tennis elbow is one of those tricky conditions that might go away with a little self-care. Or it might not. So maybe you see how it goes before checking in with your doctor.

That’s fine, but if a few weeks go by and you’re still telling yourself, “I’ll call tomorrow if it’s not better,” you might want to pick up the phone.

Tennis elbow means you have damaged tendons in your arm. It’s common in people who play sports such as tennis and squash, but more often, you have it because of a job or serious hobby where you have to grip and twist a lot. In fact, painters, carpenters, plumbers, and dentists are all more likely to get it.

Because symptoms can get worse over time, it helps to know when to check in with your doctor.

When to Call the Doctor

The main symptom of tennis elbow is pain on the outside of your elbow, which might go into your forearm and wrist. You may feel pain when doing nothing at all or with anything from holding a pen to opening a jar.

The first step in treatment is usually rest, ice, and over-the-counter pain medicine. A lot of times, that’ll do the trick. But if you still have symptoms after a week or so, or if they get worse, it’s time to call your doctor.

Also, call your doctor if you have any of these signs and symptoms:

  • It's hard to move your arm.
  • There's a lump or bulge in it.
  • Pain or difficulty moving your arm keeps you from your everyday activities.
  • The area around your elbow is reddish or swollen.

What Your Doctor Will Do

Your doctor will start with a physical exam and ask questions about your symptoms and what causes them. During the exam, they may feel different parts of your arm to check for pain. They may also move the arm, wrist or fingers in different ways

Often, that’s enough to tell if you have tennis elbow. If your doctor thinks there may be something else going on, you may get tests such as:

Electromyography. This will help your doctor see whether you have a problem with the nerves in your elbow and how well and fast they send signals. It can also measure electrical activity in your muscles when they’re at rest and when you contract them.

MRI. This can find arthritis in your neck or problems in your back, such as a disk issue, that could cause pain in your elbow.

X-ray. This can check for arthritis in your elbow.

WebMD Medical Reference



Orth Info: “Tennis Elbow (Lateral Epicondylitis).”

Harvard Health Publications, Harvard Medical School: “What to Do About Tennis Elbow.”

Mayo Clinic: “Tennis Elbow.”

Family “Tennis Elbow.”

NHS: “Tennis Elbow.”

University of Rochester: “Tennis Elbow.”

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