Tennis Elbow – Should I See a Doctor?

Lateral epicondylitis, commonly known as tennis elbow, is a painful condition where the outer part of the elbow becomes sore and tender due to repetitive motions that put a strain on the elbow. Tennis elbow is one of the most common repetitive stress injuries.

Common Causes of Tennis Elbow

While commonly referred to as tennis elbow, only 5% of the people afflicted with this injury are actually tennis players. In fact, the majority of people who suffer from tennis elbow are not athletes.

This condition can happen to anyone who uses their wrist repetitively. Some common activities known to cause tennis elbow are: typing, using a hammer or screwdriver, painting, as well as many activities performed by a plumber or gardener. The repetitive wrist movement causes degeneration in tendons that attach the forearm muscles to the arm bone.

Symptoms of Tennis Elbow

Symptoms and the intensity of pain may vary. People suffering from tennis elbow often have tenderness in the elbow and the back of the forearm, which worsens with repeated use of the elbow especially during twisting movements. Common symptoms of tennis elbow include:

  • Pain while lifting or bending the arm
  • Pain caused while twisting the forearm
  • Pain when gripping small objects like pen especially while holding the pen and writing.
  • Inability or difficulty in extending the forearm completely
  • Persistent pain on the outside of the upper forearm just below the bend of the elbow and on certain occasions, radiating down towards the wrist.

My Elbow Hurts. Should I See a Doctor?

Tennis elbow most commonly affects people between the ages of 30 to 50. People may often attribute the pain to growing older and hope that by ignoring it, the pain will go away. However, if left untreated, tennis elbow can progress into a debilitating injury that could eventually require surgery.

Another common misconception about tennis elbow is that taking anti-inflammatory medications or using topical creams can cure tennis elbow. These methods only cover the pain, and rarely solve the underlying problem. Anti-inflammatory medication may still be used to help manage the pain, but it’s best to seek medical attention and get a plan of action first. If you find yourself experiencing the symptoms described above, it’s best to talk to a physician to receive a proper diagnosis and course of treatment.

What is the Treatment for Tennis Elbow?

Doctors can prescribe many different treatment options, ranging from modalities such as braces or physical therapy, all the way up to surgery or changing jobs to avoid the repetitive motion. Your doctor will most likely start with conservative measures, such as resting the affected arm, icing the elbow, or giving you a brace. They may also instruct you to take anti-inflammatory medication to reduce the swelling and manage pain. If these options do not resolve your tennis elbow, your doctor may recommend surgery, however surgery is only necessary in about 5% of cases. If you follow your doctors suggestions and refrain from straining the tendons even further, your tennis elbow should go away within a few weeks, but could last several months.