Tennis Elbow Symptoms, Causes, Treatment and Prevention

tennis elbow symptoms

Many athletes playing sports involving racquets suffer from tennis elbow. There are three bones in the elbow, the humerus (or upper arm bone), and the two forearm bones named radius and ulna. At the bottom of humerus, there is a bony protrusion named epicondyles and the one on the elbow’s outside is the lateral epicondyle. Tennis elbow is also referred to as lateral epicondylitis in which the tendons joining the muscles of the forearm outside the elbow, get inflamed.

Most use an elbow strap to prevent further strain on the injured tendon. Various treatment options are available, most of which involve a combined intervention of surgeons, primary doctors, and physical therapists. In this article, I will show you how you can properly deal with this issue by learning its symptoms, causes, and treatments.

Symptoms Of Tennis Elbow

There are muscles, tendons, and ligaments that tightly hold the elbow joint together. In the case of tennis elbow, the muscles and tendons of the forearm are involved. To be precise, the Extensor Carpi Radialis Brevis (ECRB) is the tendon responsible for this.

There is a gradual development of tennis elbow symptoms in which mild pain occurs without any injury, at the initial stages. Even burning sensation can be felt on the outer part of the elbow. If the person does a lot of forearm activity such as playing tennis, shaking hands, lifting weights, turning a wrench, etc., the symptoms of the issue increases. Generally, stiffness can be experienced in the morning and it starts aching. The forearm muscles also become sore.

In a few weeks or months, the pain becomes worse. It also reduces the grip strength. Generally, there is more effect on the dominant arm but the other one can also be affected with tennis elbow.

Causes Of Tennis Elbow

There are various causes of tennis elbow, all of which are explained in the following section:

  1. Extensor carpi radialis brevis(ECRB) is responsible for wrist stabilization when the elbow is straight but it becomes weak because of overuse. The appearance of minute tears in the tendon where it is attached to the lateral epicondyle results in pain and inflammation of the area.
  2. The ECRB is at such a position that it is prone to gradual wear and tear because of repeated rubbing against the bony projection.
  3. People who are not athletes, but involved in any work that needs the consistent use of forearm muscles such as plumbers, painters, cooks among others face this issue.
  4. Those in the age group of 30-50 can also get tennis elbow in case they have the risk factors.

Tennis Elbow Treatments

Non-surgical procedures for tennis elbow treatment has a good success rate of 80-95% and includes the following:

  • Avoid doing any heavy activities to ensure proper rest to the arm. Continue this for some weeks to feel the improvement.
  • In order to reduce the pain and swelling, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicines such as Ibuprofen/ Aspirin can be taken. Tennis elbow pain relief cream is also effective.
  • Opt for physical therapy in which you need to do certain exercises that will strengthen the forearm muscles. The healing can also be performed through techniques of stimulating the muscles or ice massage.
  • A brace can be centered over the back of the forearm to provide relief from the tennis elbow symptoms by causing the muscles and tendons to rest.
  • Sometimes doctors advise injecting steroid injections around the painful area to reduce the pain.

Tennis Elbow Prevention

Tennis elbow can be avoided to some extent if you reduce the strain on your elbow’s tendons. Persons who already have this issue should not do any work that triggers the pain.

It is a good practice to distribute a load to the upper arm muscles as well as shoulder muscles instead of the wrist and elbow.

Athletes need to enhance their techniques whenever the sport involves arm movements. Besides this, the sports equipment must be of the right size and weight to prevent wear and tear of the tendons. When they are of lightweight and have a larger grip, the stress on the tendons gets reduced significantly.

In order to avoid injury to the muscles, warm-up, and stretching of the arm muscles are recommended for the athletes involved in repeated arm movements.

While using your arms, you can wear a tennis elbow splint to avoid the tendons from any damage. This can be removed while taking rest.

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Tennis Elbow Symptoms - Frequently Asked Questions

The main reason behind tennis elbow is the excess use of the forearms because of which its muscles and tendons get strained. The continuous activity makes the situation worse leading to more pain and inflammation.

You can follow some simple steps in order to get relief from tennis elbow:

  1. Any kind of strenuous activity which causes the elbow pain to aggravate should be completely abstained from.
  2. Use the pain relief cream for tennis elbow to reduce the inflammation. Ibuprofen such as Advil, Motrin IB or Naproxen like Aleve is the over the counter pain relievers which can be taken.
  3. Apply a cold pack on the inflamed area 3-4 times every day for 15 minutes, to feel some relief.
  4. Do the exercises by consulting the doctor and use the right tools if you are involved in any activity that requires the movement of your forearms and wrist.

Wrist turn with and without weight, elbow bend, wrist extensor stretch, wrist extensor flex, fist squeeze, and towel twist are some of the exercises that can be done to get relief from tennis elbow symptoms.

It is a good practice to apply ice to an injured place compared to heat for the initial 3-4 days. This will numb the area and reduce swelling through blood vessel constriction. After 3-4 days, you can start using heat as it will enhance the blood flow in the and heal it. Besides this, pain relief is caused by the relaxation of the muscles.

Using compression sleeves is useful when the symptoms of tennis elbow are mild. It is helpful in enhancing the blood flow while working out, doing any activity or while resting. Thus the soreness of muscles reduces and the healing takes place quickly. Besides this, these sleeves enable muscle stabilization which includes a decrease in muscle vibration that has an impact on the tendons.

Deep tissue massage is useful for tennis elbow because it increases the blood circulation. But it is essential to avoid springing back to action as soon as you feel good because the tendons which were damaged are vulnerable. So, massage sessions and exercising have to be continued with caution to ensure total healing.

Final Words

Tennis elbow is undoubtedly a serious concern, but with proper care, its symptoms can be relieved. There are remedies that you can try at home also if you do not want to opt for surgical procedures. The main thing that has to be kept in mind is to take the necessary steps for preventing it, as prevention is always better than cure. But if you are already having tennis elbow, start doing the exercises sincerely so that you can feel relieved from the pain. Besides this, seek the guidance of your doctor for better help.

Kevin Fitzgerald
Kevin Fitzgerald is a tennis coach based in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Kevin was introduced to tennis by his father at the age of 3. Tennis quickly became a passion, and he started coaching at the early age of 16. Kevin now writes for several tennis related blogs and magazines.