Sports Medicine Guide: A Deep Dive into Tennis Elbow

A man holding his elbow

The Causes and Symptoms You Need to Know to Avoid and Recover from Injury

Lateral epicondylitis, which is more commonly known as tennis elbow, is a repetitive strain injury (RSI) that causes pain, weakness, and swelling in the affected elbow. According to recent statistics, tennis elbow only affects 1 to 3% of the population every year. However, those numbers consider the entire population, both players and non-players alike.

The story becomes much different when looking at just the tennis playing population. According to Medical News Today, 50% of tennis players will experience tennis elbow. Considering millions of people worldwide play the game of tennis, this makes it one of the most common conditions in all of sports.

As part of our deep dive into tennis elbow, we will break down the causes of tennis elbow, what the symptoms are, and how a sports medicine physician can treat it.

What Causes Tennis Elbow? What Are the Symptoms?

Swinging a tennis racket over and over and over is an example of repetitive motion. The more a player does it, the more duress it puts on the tendons and ligaments of the elbow. Tennis elbow may also affect golfers, bowlers, and baseball or softball players. However, there are plenty of individuals who develop tennis elbow for reasons unrelated to sports.

A butcher, for instance, will make the same chopping motion thousands of times throughout their career. Carpenters, painters, and plumbers also are at risk of repetitive strain injuries. It’s also worth noting that age plays a role in who tennis elbow affects. According to the Mayo Clinic, tennis elbow is most common in adults between the ages of 30 and 50.

The common symptoms of tennis elbow include:

  • Radiating pain in the elbow that may spread throughout the arm.
  • A burning sensation in the outer elbow.
  • Pain and stiffness when twisting, bending, or extending the arm.
  • Swelling and tenderness.
  • Weakened grip in the affected arm, especially when handling heavy objects.

How Do You Confirm You Have Tennis Elbow?

For those who suspect they may have tennis elbow, the best course of action is to see your healthcare provider, orthopedic doctor, or a sports medicine doctor to get officially diagnosed. Sports medicine physicians will typically order X-rays to rule out conditions such as broken bones and arthritis.

Next, your doctor may order one or more imaging tests. MRIs, ultrasounds, and CT scans assess muscle and tendon damage. An electromyography (EMG) can effectively measure muscle and nerve electrical activity and check for nerve compression.

How Is Tennis Elbow Typically Treated?

The bad news for athletes and those who use repetitive motion as part of their job is that tennis elbow typically takes several weeks to recover from. For those whose symptoms are just beginning, the best course of action is to cease all activities that aggravate it, and give the tendons time to heal. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can help with the pain. Further, counterforce braces have also proven effective in relieving the symptoms of tennis elbow, as they take tension off the muscles and tendons.

For those who are considering seeing a sports medicine physician about their tennis elbow, you can expect one or more of the following treatments:

Physical therapy (PT): Physical therapy exercises help mitigate symptoms of pain while strengthening your grip and forearm muscles. PT also aims to improve the overall function of your elbow and correct any poor technique you may be using during your repetitive motions.

Steroid injections: Although not a permanent solution, injectable corticosteroids will temporarily relieve the pain in your elbow joint. To ensure it’s done correctly, steroid injections should only be administered by a sports medicine doctor or orthopedic doctor.

Platelet-rich plasma (PRP) therapy: PRP therapy is a relatively new process that uses the body’s own naturally occurring materials to heal itself. Specifically, concentrated platelets are used to accelerate healing in areas of the body that have been injured. Similar to steroid injections, this process should only be performed by a sports medicine doctor or orthopedic doctor.

Surgery: In the most advanced cases of tennis elbow, surgery may be the only option to permanently resolve the issue. Depending on the severity of your tennis elbow, your surgeon may need to remove inflamed tissue or release a tendon that’s caught in the joint. However, most cases of tennis elbow can be resolved through non-surgical means.

How to Book an Appointment with a Sports Medicine Doctor

For those who are suffering with the symptoms of tennis elbow or pain and discomfort related to a sports related condition, the best course of action is to contact your local sports medicine doctor in Wichita. After collecting some basic medical history, your doctor will perform a full evaluation and provide an official diagnosis before formulating a treatment plan that works best for you and your activity level.