Tennis elbow happens when you overload or put continuous pressure on your elbow. Pain usually occurs on the outside of your arm, where your forearm meets your elbow (although it can also spread into your forearm or wrist).
Constantly using your arms in a repetitive motion may cause small tears to the tendons at the elbow end of a muscle called the extensor carpi radialis brevis (ECRB) muscle. Those tears lead to inflammation and could put stress on your arm, making it painful to lift and grip things. If left untreated, the condition can worsen and continue.
What causes tennis elbow?
Despite its name, fewer than 5% of people who get tennis elbow actually play tennis. Around 3% of the population is affected, most being adults between the ages of 30 and 50.
When playing tennis, hitting a backhand puts pressure on your forearm muscles, which continually contract when hitting the ball. Having poor technique or gripping the tennis racquet too tightly may increase stress in the tendons that connect the forearm muscles to the elbow and create small tears. The more you repeat those strokes, in tennis or in other sports like squash or racquetball, the likelier you are to get tennis elbow.
Any activity that puts pressure on the muscles around the elbow over and over again can cause it. Often, plumbers, painters, carpenters and others whose jobs feature repetitive motions are diagnosed with tennis elbow.
Also caused by repetitive movements that lead to tendon tears is golfer’s elbow, which typically occurs on the inside of the elbow.
What does tennis elbow feel like?
Tennis elbow pain starts with an ache on the outside of the elbow. The ache can turn into an ongoing pain, lasting a few weeks to a few months. Ultimately, the outside of your elbow may become too painful to touch. Sometimes it can affect both arms and/or radiate to your forearm and wrist. Everyday activities like shaking hands, gripping an object, turning a doorknob or holding a coffee cup could become painful and difficult.
When should I see a doctor?
If self-care tips like rest, ice and over-the-counter pain killers don’t ease the pain or tenderness, talk to your doctor.
Your doctor may ask you to perform simple actions to diagnose tennis elbow. These could include straightening your wrist against pressure and checking for pain in certain parts of your arm. An MRI scan may also be ordered.
Typically, tennis elbow can be treated with exercise and physical therapy.
We can help.
Teri Formanek, M.D., is an orthopaedic surgeon specializing in hand and upper limb surgery and treatment. He received his medical degree from the University of Iowa and completed hand surgery training at Harvard University. He is board certified by the American Board of Orthopaedic Surgery with a certificate of added qualifications in hand surgery and is board certified in hand surgery. He does minimally invasive surgeries including wrist arthroscopy, elbow arthroscopy, shoulder arthroscopy, endoscopic carpal tunnel release and endoscopic cubital tunnel release.
Dr. Gregory Yanish specializes in hand, forearm and elbow surgery. He received his medical degree from St. George’s University School of Medicine and is board certified in general surgery and surgery of the hand. Dr. Yanish also specializes in minimally invasive surgery including endoscopic carpal tunnel release, endoscopic cubital tunnel release, Tenex fast procedure for tennis elbow and PRP injections.
To make an appointment with either Dr. Formanek or Dr. Yanish, call us at 515-440-2676.