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Tennis elbow

Tennis elbow is a type of tendonitis that causes pain around the outside of your elbow. It's also known as lateral epicondylitis.

What is tennis elbow?

Tennis elbow is caused by overuse of the muscles and tendons in your forearm near to your elbow joint. It's caused by any activity that involves repetitive movement in your elbow, wrist and forearm.

It can affect anyone but is most common in people aged 30–50 years. Although movement of your elbow joint isn’t restricted, it can be painful and make some everyday tasks difficult.

In most cases, tennis elbow goes away after about a year with simple treatments and avoiding the repetitive activity that caused it.

Causes of tennis elbow

Around your elbow joints are muscles that move your elbow, wrist and fingers. Tendons connect some of these muscles to the bony lump on the outside of your elbow. When your muscles and tendons are overloaded, tiny tears can form causing a thickening of the tendon. Over time, this can become painful.

Activities which may cause tennis elbow include:

  • Decorating
  • Playing a musical instrument
  • Playing tennis
  • Repeated use of a computer mouse

A similar condition causing pain on the inside of the elbow is golfer’s elbow (also known as medial epicondylitis).

How to tell if you have tennis elbow

The main symptom of tennis elbow is pain that:

  • Gradually increases over time
  • Can spread to your forearm, wrist and fingers
  • May get worse when you use the muscles to do simple tasks like using a knife or fork, hold a cup or straighten your arm fully
  • Is felt when you push your middle finger backwards

Tennis elbow usually affects one arm more than the other (usually the dominant arm).

Talk to your doctor if you’re concerned about symptoms

You can book an appointment with a Spire private GP today.

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Diagnosis and tests for tennis elbow

You should see your GP if the pain is affecting you or has lasted a long time.

Your doctor will discuss your symptoms and will carry out simple examinations; for example, to see if you have pain when you stretch out your fingers and flex your wrist while your elbow is extended.

Occasionally, your doctor will arrange an ultrasound scan or MRI scan to rule out other conditions.

They'll then be able to advise an effective tennis elbow treatment.

Common treatments for tennis elbow

If you stop the activity that caused it, tennis elbow may eventually go away by itself. However, there are some things you can do to help reduce pain and speed recovery:

  • If advised by your doctor, take painkillers to reduce pain and inflammation
  • Rest your arm and avoid activities that make pain worse
  • Use ice packs regularly
  • Massaging your arm may also help
  • Physiotherapy
  • Steroid injections to reduce pain and inflammation

In severe cases, tennis elbow treatment may involve tendon surgery.