Tennis Elbow — Not Just a Sports Injury

Feb 09, 2024
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Tennis elbow is a nagging and painful condition that, yes, tends to develop in racquet sports, but it can just as easily develop for other reasons, such as using hand tools. Let’s take a look.

You’re struggling with pain in your elbow and your grip has weakened, yet you haven’t been near a tennis court in ages, if ever.

Between 1% and 3% of Americans get tennis elbow, and a fair number of these people don’t play tennis. That said, tennis elbow has earned its name because up to 50% of tennis players develop symptoms of lateral epicondylitis, which is the medical term for tennis elbow.

In this month’s blog post, our team here at Revive Spine & Pain Center is going to spend some time discussing tennis elbow, which is a common sports injury, but it also occurs for other reasons, which we review below.

A quick elbow anatomy lesson

As with most musculoskeletal issues, we find it helpful to explain some basic anatomy of the joint in question, which certainly applies to tennis elbow.

Your elbow is a joint that brings together three bones:

  • Humerus (upper arm bone)
  • Ulna (forearm bone)
  • Radius (forearm bone)

At the bottom of your humerus, there are bony bumps called epicondyles, which help attach connective tissues to the bone. On the outside of your humerus is your lateral epicondyle, which serves as the connection point for muscles and tendons in your forearm to your elbow. These muscles and tendons control extension in your wrist and hand.

With tennis elbow, there’s damage in the forearm tendons and muscles, namely the extensor carpi radialis brevis tissues.

Signs of tennis elbow

Whether or not you play tennis, if you develop any of the following symptoms, you may be dealing with tennis elbow. These symptoms include:

  • Pain on the outside of your elbow
  • Pain that extends down your forearm
  • A weaker grip
  • Elbow pain at night
  • Stiffness and swelling in your elbow 

The pain is often described as burning, throbbing, or aching.

Tennis elbow — a repetitive use injury

Lateral epicondylitis is what we call a repetitive use (or overuse) injury, which leads to tiny tears in the connective tissues we discussed earlier.

This means that any activity that strains the forearm tendons and muscles can lead to tennis elbow. While gripping a tennis racquet and hitting a ball certainly qualifies, so do other activities, such as:

  • Painting
  • Playing a musical instrument
  • Riding bikes
  • Working with tools

This last item — tool use — extends to different professions, such as plumbers, dentists, carpenters, autoworkers, cooks, and butchers. 

Getting relief for your tennis elbow

If you suspect that you might be dealing with tennis elbow, we recommend that you come see us for an evaluation. If, after a through examination, we agree with your assessment, we can help you get relief with various treatments that include:

  • Rest and activity modification
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs 
  • Bracing
  • Physical therapy
  • Corticosteroid injections
  • Regenerative medicine, including platelet-rich plasma therapy 
  • Tenex™ procedure (percutaneous tenotomy)
  • Cold laser therapy

To figure out which combination is best for your painful tennis elbow, please schedule an appointment at one of our locations in Marlton, Hamilton Township, or East Brunswick, New Jersey.