Tennis elbow is soreness or pain on the outside (lateral) side of the upper arm near the elbow.
The part of the muscle that attaches to a bone is called a tendon. Some of the muscles in your forearm attach to the bone on the outside of your elbow.
When you use these muscles over and over again, small tears develop in the tendon. Over time, this leads to irritation and pain where the tendon is attached to the bone.
This injury is common in people who play a lot of tennis or other racket sports, hence the name "tennis elbow." Backhand is the most common stroke to cause symptoms.
But any activity that involves repetitive twisting of the wrist (like using a screwdriver) can lead to this condition. Painters, plumbers, construction workers, cooks, and butchers are all more likely to develop tennis elbow.
This condition may also be due to repetitive typing on the computer keyboard and mouse use.
People between 35 to 54 years old are commonly affected.
Sometimes, there is no known cause of tennis elbow.
Symptoms can include any of the following:
Your health care provider will examine you and ask about your symptoms. The exam may show:
An MRI may be done to confirm the diagnosis.
The first step is to rest your arm for 2 or 3 weeks and avoid or modify the activity that causes your symptoms. You may also want to:
If your tennis elbow is due to sports activity, you may want to:
If your symptoms are related to working on a computer, ask your manager about changing your workstation or your chair, desk, and computer setup. For example, a wrist support or a roller mouse may help.
A physical therapist can show you exercises to stretch and strengthen the muscles of your forearm.
You can buy a special brace (counter force brace) for tennis elbow at most drugstores. It wraps around the upper part of your forearm and takes some of the pressure off the muscles.
Your provider may also inject cortisone and a numbing medicine around the area where the tendon attaches to the bone. This may help decrease the swelling and pain.
If the pain continues after 6 months of rest and treatment, surgery may be recommended. Talk with your orthopedic surgeon about the risks and whether surgery might help.
Elbow pain may get better without surgery. But most people who have surgery have full use of their forearm and elbow afterwards.
Call for an appointment with your provider if:
Reviewed By: C. Benjamin Ma, MD, Professor, Chief, Sports Medicine and Shoulder Service, UCSF Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, San Francisco, CA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.