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Tennis Elbow

What is Tennis Elbow?

Tennis elbow is an extremely common cause of pain on the outside of the elbow.  Tennis elbow used to be called lateral epicondylitis or elbow tendonitis but due to the absence of inflammation in the involved tendons, it is now more correctly called lateral elbow tendinosis.  It involves degeneration and sometimes tears developing in the tendons at the elbow where the wrist muscles originate.

What are the Signs of Tennis Elbow?

Tennis elbow pain is usually felt as a very sharp or stabbing pain on the outside of the elbow during gripping or lifting.  There is tenderness over the bone on the outside of the elbow (the lateral epicondyle) and there may be an ache in the elbow especially at night.  The elbow may also feel stiff, and there is usually a marked loss of grip strength in the affected hand.

Illustration of the muscles involved in tennis elbow and how they relate to the site of pain
How is Tennis Elbow Diagnosed?

Not all elbow pain is due to tennis elbow. It is important to get an accurate diagnosis to ensure you receive the right treatment.   An upper limb specialist such as a hand therapist will perform a series of clinical tests to confirm the diagnosis.    You may also be referred for an ultrasound scan to examine the tendons at the elbow.

What Causes Tennis Elbow?

Tennis elbow usually results from overuse or overloading of the involved tendons, but occasionally results from a direct blow to the elbow.

Tennis Elbow Treatment

Our hand therapists apply the latest research evidence to provide you with the most beneficial exercises to aid your recovery.  An important part of recovery is knowing which actions to avoid in order to prevent further overloading of the affected tendons.  Our therapists will help you to identify which actions to avoid reducing pain and facilitating healing.  A tennis elbow strap also known as a counter-force brace may be fitted to help reduce strain on the involved tendons. 

Patent wearing a counterforce brace to relieve pain from tennis elbow

Our therapists also use a variety of other techniques to reduce pain and promote healing including taping, dry needling and electrical modalities.   As with all overuse conditions, recovery is always better when treatment is commenced early. Corticosteroid injection is sometimes offered as a treatment for tennis elbow however studies have shown that although steroid injection provides good short-term pain relief, the long-term results are poorer.  Very long-standing cases of tennis elbow may require tennis elbow surgery. 

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