Tennis Elbow: what is it and how to prevent it

January 21, 2015

Tennis elbow is a condition that is the root cause of pain around the outside of the elbow.

It’s clinically known as lateral epicondylitis, something which often occurs after particular overuse of the tendons and muscles in the forearm, located near the elbow joint.

Though it’s most near the elbow in which pain is felt, you can also suffer pain in different areas of your arm:

When attempting to grip small items, like pens
When making a twisting action with your arm, like opening a door/pouring a kettle
On the outside of your forearm, underneath the bend of your elbow
When you extend your arm to its maximum.
When you’re lifting an item
What’s the cause of tennis elbow?

The elbow joint is surrounded by a number of muscles that are responsible for movement in your elbow, wrist and fingers. The tendons join the elbow bones and muscles together, both which control the muscles of your forearm. Tennis elbow is a condition that’s usually caused by the overuse of muscles attached to your elbow, which are used to extend your wrist. If the muscles and tendons become strained, tiny tears can form and cause inflammation which can develop on and around the bony lump (the lateral epicondyle) on the outside of your elbow.

As the name suggests, tennis elbow is sometimes caused by playing tennis. However, it’s often caused by other activities that cause repeated stress on the wrist/elbow, where things like decorating or playing the violin can be incredibly uncomfortable. Pain that occurs on the inner side of the elbow, instead of on the outside, is often known as ‘golfer’s elbow’.

How can you treat tennis elbow?

Treatments are available that can be used to improve your symptoms and speed up the overall time of your expected recovery. It is important to remember that resting your injury from aggravating activity. Failing to do so may cause symptoms to deteriorate as a result. Take a break and stop doing the activity/activities that are causing the problem.

Holding a cold item, such as a bag of frozen peas wrapped by a towel, against your elbow for 10 minutes at numerous times throughout the day can help ease any pain felt. Taking painkillers for the injury, such as paracetamol, can help reduce mild pain that’s directly cause by tennis elbow. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, can also be used to help reduce inflammation, which should ease any feelings of discomfort in your arm. This type of medication should be taken as directed by your GP or pharmacist.

Physiotherapy can be very helpful for tennis elbow. The massaging and manipulating of the affected area, though uncomfortable, can help to relieve the pain and stiffness experienced. As the pain settles, exercises may also be prescribed in order to restore strength and function in the area.

However, according to research by the NHS, in about nine out of 10 cases, a full recovery is usually made within a year

How to prevent tennis elbow

If your tennis elbow is caused by an activity that includes repeated strain on your elbow joint, like sports such as tennis do, changing your technique may help to alleviate the problem. If you require treatment to settle your symptoms, it’s wise to get some further professional help to understand and address what has caused them.