What is Tennis Elbow and how is it treated

Estimated Reading Time: 5 minutes

Tennis elbow (medically known as lateral epicondylitis) is a condition that causes pain around the elbow when the muscles in that area are overused. It’s given the name “tennis elbow”, as playing tennis or similar sports can be one of the causes of this condition.

Tennis elbow is essentially a type of tendonitis that causes swelling of the tendons that attach the forearm muscles to the outside of the elbow. It’s often compared to arthritis; however, arthritis is inflammation of joints, whereas tennis elbow involves inflammation of the tendons.

Let’s take a look at what causes tennis elbow and how it can be treated.


What causes tennis elbow?

Tennis elbow is mainly caused by overusing the muscles in your forearm attached to your elbow. When the muscles are overused and strained, small tears can develop in the tendons on the outside of your elbow joint, leading to inflammation.

As the name of the condition suggests, this can be caused by playing tennis and other similar sports, but any activity that causes you to use the muscles in the forearm excessively and put repeated stress on the elbow can cause this condition. It’s not just athletes that experience it – it can also develop in plumbers, painters, carpenters, butchers, or anyone who uses their forearms regularly for any work or leisure activity.


Tennis elbow symptoms

Tennis elbow typically develops over time and can cause pain and stiffness of the outer elbow, which is more noticeable when lifting, bending, or trying to fully extend the arm, gripping small objects, or twisting the forearm when doing things like opening a jar. Some people also experience tenderness in the forearm, wrist and back of their hand.

The pain can range from mild to severe.


Tennis elbow treatment

In most cases, tennis elbow tends to get better on its own with rest. However, the condition can take anywhere from six months to two years to completely resolve.

Over-the-counter medications and self-care methods, such as icing the elbow to reduce swelling or applying heat to the area to promote blood flow, can help provide relief.

However, if you find these aren’t working, you may need advice from a medical professional about how best to manage and treat the condition. For example, physical therapy may be an option, or in some severe cases, surgery may be required.

Physical therapy

A physical therapist can advise you on what exercises you should and shouldn’t do to treat tennis elbow. For example, they may advise you to avoid exercises that put excess strain on the elbow joint, such as push-ups, and you will need to avoid any repetitive movements.

Massaging the area may also be recommended to help reduce the pain and stiffness so that you can move your forearm more freely.

Your physical therapist will teach you exercises to help stretch out and strengthen the muscles in your forearm.

Let’s look at some of the best exercises often recommended for tennis elbow.

Fist clench

Grip strength is one of the main things affected when you have tennis elbow. Clenching your fists can help with this. Place a small ball in the palm of your hand, rest your forearm flat on a table and squeeze the ball in your hand for a few seconds. Rest, and then repeat two to three times.

Downwards wrist stretch

For this exercise, hold the affected arm straight out in front of you and slowly bend your wrist down until you feel a little stretch and hold for up to 30 seconds. Repeat this a couple of times and try to do the exercise a few times each day.

Towel twist

All you need for this exercise is a towel, as the name suggests. Sit in a chair and hold a towel with your hands. Then, twist the towel in opposite directions as if you are wringing water from it. Repeat 10-15 times in each direction.

Bicep curls

You will need something lightweight, like a small dumbbell or a can of beans, to perform this exercise. Sit on a chair and bend your arm, allowing your arm to rest on your thigh. Next, hold the dumbbell or can of beans in your hand and slowly curl it up towards your chest and down again. Repeat this exercise 10-15 times


Tennis elbow surgery

In some severe cases of tennis elbow where symptoms do not improve, surgery may be recommended.

An arthroscopy of the elbow may be performed to help assess the extent of the condition and treat it at the same time. An arthroscopy is a type of keyhole surgery which involves an orthopaedic surgeon inserting a tiny camera through small incisions in the elbow. The surgeon assesses the damage and may remove part of the tendon causing the pain and discomfort.

Patients can return home the same day and usually see a significant improvement in symptoms within six to eight weeks.


Tennis elbow treatment at Ramsay Health Care

Here at Ramsay, we offer rapid access to appointments with our orthopaedic specialists to help diagnose and treat your tennis elbow, so you can get back to doing the activities you enjoy.

Our skilled orthopaedic surgeons regularly perform elbow arthroscopy procedures to successfully treat a range of elbow conditions, while our team of physiotherapists are experienced in treating sports injuries and will work with you to develop an individualised treatment plan to help relieve your pain and increase your movement.

Contact us today to find out more and book your consultation.


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