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Elbow Anatomy

The elbow is a joint made up of three bones: the upper arm bone (humerus) and the two forearm bones (radius and ulna). The lower end of the humerus has bony bumps called epicondyles that serve as sites of attachment for major tendons and muscles that help in arm movement. The bump on the outside of the elbow is called the lateral epicondyle which is the site of attachment of the tendons and muscles that help extend your fingers and wrist.

What is Tennis Elbow?

Tennis elbow is a common name for the elbow condition lateral epicondylitis. It is an overuse injury that causes inflammation and microtears of the tendons that attach to the lateral epicondyle.

Tennis elbow can be a painful condition resulting from repeated muscle contractions at the forearm. The condition is more common in activities that involve repetitive forceful actions in a gripping position, such as tennis, painting, hammering, typing, gardening and playing musical instruments.

Tennis elbow and golfer’s elbow are similar, except that golfer’s elbow is the name we give for the condition when it occurs on the inside aspect of the elbow; tennis elbow is on the outside. Both conditions are a type of tendinopathy (or tendonitis).

Causes of Tennis Elbow

Tennis elbow is usually caused by overuse of the forearm muscles but may also be caused by direct trauma such as with a fall, car accident or work injury.

Tennis elbow is commonly seen in tennis players, hence the name, especially when poor technique is used while hitting the ball with a backhand stroke. Other common causes include any activity that requires repetitive motion of the forearm such as painting, hammering, typing, raking, weaving, gardening, lifting heavy objects and playing musical instruments.

Symptoms of Tennis Elbow

The signs and symptoms of tennis elbow can include the following:

  • Elbow pain that gradually worsens
  • Pain to the outside of the elbow that radiates to the forearm and wrist with grasping objects
  • Weak and/or painful grip
  • Pain that is exacerbated in the elbow when the wrist is bent back

Diagnosis of Tennis Elbow

Your physiotherapist will evaluate tennis elbow by reviewing your history and performing a thorough physical examination.

Treatment of Tennis Elbow

Conservative treatment options such as physiotherapy should always be the initial choice. These may include:

  • Allowing the symptoms to settle by reducing or avoiding the activities which bring on the pain
  • Exercises to strengthen the muscles and stimulate healing in the tendon
  • Taping, splints or braces may help to reduce the stress on the injured tissues
  • Ice packs on the elbow can help reduce swelling and pain
  • Anti-inflammatory medications may be prescribed to help with the pain, and sometimes steroid injections may be used as an adjunct for the symptoms.

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