What is lateral epicondylitis or “tennis elbow”?

Lateral epicondylitis or “tennis elbow” is a common cause of elbow pain. This condition is caused by a very small tear in one of the muscles (extensor carpi radialis brevis) located near the elbow. This causes pain in the area where the tear is located.

Why do I have tennis elbow?

It is not unusual for our tendons to get weaker as we age, and sometimes a small tear can develop. This is similar to how a pair of jeans may get worn out with time, or a hole develops in a care tire. This explains why tennis elbow is so common; our parts just wear out!

For some patients, tennis elbow symptoms may result from an injury.

Will this ever get better?

Tennis elbow can take a long time to get better and the progress is usually slow. Patients often ask “Will this ever get better?” The good news is that it will. The bad news is that it can take as long as 18 months for the symptoms to entirely go away. Most patients have a gradual improvement.

What is the treatment for tennis elbow?

The pain caused by tennis elbow is usually the worst during the first two weeks. During this time we recommend icing the elbow, avoiding painful activity and using anti-inflammatory medications. This allows the initial pain to decrease.

The next phase of treatment involves stretching and strengthening exercises to rehabilitate the elbow. These exercises can often be done at home by the patient or with a physical therapist. These exercises will need to be done for several months.

If pain continues, cortisone injections can be tried. These injections typically provide temporary relief (up to 6 weeks) but may last longer for some individuals.

Surgery can be used to treat patients who have not improved after several months of non-operative treatment. Very few patients require surgery.

What splints or braces do you recommend for tennis elbow?

Tennis elbow straps are commonly used. These straps work by taking pressure off of the aggravated area of the elbow. We recommend that patients try wearing the strap and if they feel it is helpful continue to wear it as needed. It should not be worn at all times and should not be worn while sleeping.

If I have tennis elbow should I be using my arm for work or exercise?

Yes, it is important that you continue to use your arm as much as possible. You may do any activity that you are able to do. Although you may have pain when using your arm, you do not need to worry that you are doing any damage.

What surgeries are done for tennis elbow?

The surgical treatment for tennis elbow is to clean out or remove the area of worn out tendon. This can be accomplished through a small incision on the elbow or with arthroscopic techniques using a few small incisions and a camera.