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Do I have tennis elbow?

The Health at Hand nurses look at causes, symptoms and treatment of tennis elbow

Tennis elbow is a common condition that causes pain around the outside of your elbow. In spite of its name, this condition is often the result of everyday activities, not just playing a sport. Anyone can get it, particularly as you get older. 

Elbow pain

There are three reasons why we may get elbow pain:

  1. From damage or scarring to the soft tissue on the bone at the tip of the elbow – persistent leaning on this area may result in swelling and pain.
  2. As a result of a condition called lateral epicondylitis – otherwise known as tennis elbow. If there is damage to the muscles and tendons to the outside of the elbow then pain will result (usually due to repetitive action or over-use). Some of these muscles fix into the side of the elbow just above the elbow point which is why pain may occur. Pain from tennis elbow usually diminishes after 6 months but can take anywhere up to 2 years to disappear completely.
  3. Medial epicondylitis – more commonly known as golfer’s elbow can also be the cause of pain in that area. Similar to tennis elbow but affecting the muscles and tendons on the inside as opposed to the outside of the elbow.

Tennis elbow – the causes

Inflammation and pain is a result of the muscles and tendons around the elbow being damaged or strained. Usually, this is due to over-use of the elbow but can also occur if the elbow is banged or knocked. Sometimes tennis elbow can occur as the result of suddenly undertaking exercise that you are not used to which involves the wrist or forearm.

If you haven’t played for a while and then decide to play a vigorous racquet game such as tennis, squash or badminton, pain in the elbow may result. Other activities such as typing, using shears, painting and decorating, etc., may result in tennis elbow too.

Tennis elbow – symptoms

Mild or very sharp pain in your arm just below the elbow is the most commonly reported symptom of tennis elbow. The pain may also spread down the arm.

People with tennis elbow sometimes find it difficult to fully extend the arm and it can sometimes be painful to grip small objects or even twist the arm.

Treatment for tennis elbow

Tennis elbow tends to get better on its own, but it is advised to rest the arm and you can help ease the pain by icing the elbow – either with an ice pack or frozen peas wrapped in a tea towel held against your elbow for 10 minutes at a time. Over the counter pain killers like paracetamol or ibuprofen may help with the pain along with reducing inflammation.

If after resting the area and icing it for a few days you are still experiencing a lot of pain then you should make an appointment to see your GP. They may refer you for physiotherapy which through massage and manipulation may help to get full movement back into your arm.

If your case is extremely serious then surgery to remove the damage in the tendon may be advised.

Find out how to prevent and treat some of the most common sports injuries

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