What is a tennis elbow?

Adidas tennis US Open 2022

This is a guest post by Daniel, the author of Total Health Blog.

The majority of injuries in sports can be attributed to overuse. In tennis, for example, it is the consistent swinging motion that leads to repetitive stress injury. The most common symptoms are a pain in the forearm and elbow.

If the area is swollen or bruised, it could indicate an underlying problem such as a dislocated shoulder. A doctor can perform an X-ray or MRI to determine if there are any fractures in the arm and provide immediate care. If the arm is not painful, there are no fractures and the area appears normal, you should begin treatment to prevent further injury.

Photo courtesy of Injury Map.

The causes of tennis elbow

Tennis elbow (also known as lateral epicondylitis) is one of the most common overuse injuries in racquet sports, mainly tennis. It occurs when excessive repetition or stress causes an inflammation at the elbow joint, which can lead to deformation of the bone and tendon (also known as extensor carpi radialis brevis – ECRB).

In addition, the tendon can be torn, causing a complete loss of movement. The lateral epicondyle is a bony protrusion on the outer (lateral) side of the elbow. The tennis elbow commonly involves the ECRB muscle and tendon.

Symptoms of tennis elbow

Symptoms of tennis elbow include pain in the inner part of the elbow and swelling. If your symptoms are more severe, you may also experience difficulty gripping objects or losing control over your hand while using it.

Types of tennis elbow

Tennis elbow affects 1% to 3% of the general population, and up to 50% of tennis players at some point throughout their careers.

Here are different types of tennis elbow:

Overuse injury. A common cause of tennis elbow is repetitive stress at the elbow joint. If you are experiencing pain in your wrist, forearm, or outside of your elbow, it could be a result of overuse. The causes can include playing too much tennis or other sports that involve repetitive arm swinging motions, such as racquet sports, golf, and swimming.

Injury to the tendon or bone. The most common cause of tennis elbow is an injury to the tendon that attaches your forearm muscles to your wrist. Tendon injuries can occur in any part of the arm, but they are most commonly found at the elbow.

Tendonitis. Tennis elbow is also known as tendonitis, which occurs when the tendon becomes inflamed and swollen due to overuse or strain. Tendons are connective tissue that allows muscles to move bones in your arm and hand.

Risk factors for tennis elbow

Certain factors increase your risk of developing a tennis elbow. These include:

  • Previous injury to the tendon or bone in the arm, wrist, or hand. This is especially true if you have had any problems with tendons in other parts of your body. If this has happened before, you may need to take extra precautions to protect your elbow and wrist.
  • Previous injury or surgery of the shoulder, neck, or back. If you have had a previous injury in any of these areas, it is important that you avoid certain movements and activities that can put pressure on your arm.
  • Previous or current injury to the elbow joint. This can occur in any part of your arm, including the wrist and forearm. It is especially common in people who have had previous injuries at the elbow.
  • Having an overactive thyroid gland (hyperthyroidism). Your doctor may check your thyroid gland to see if you have an overactive gland. Your doctor may also ask you to take a blood test (T4 and TSH) or do other tests to find out how much of the hormone thyroxine is in your body.
  • Having arthritis in any part of your body. This includes the elbow, wrist, and shoulder joints.
  • Having diabetes or poor blood circulation in your arms and hands (peripheral vascular disease). If you have these conditions, you may need to take extra precautions to protect your arm from injuries such as tennis elbow.
  • Having a weak heart (cardiac disease). This may make it harder for your heart to pump blood around your body. It also makes it more likely that you will have problems with other parts of your body, including the arms and hands.

Diagnosis and treatment for tennis elbow

Diagnosis and conservative treatment usually involve a combination of self-care measures and medical care. In some cases, surgery may be necessary to relieve pain or restore function. The goal is to avoid problems with the elbow joint in the first place, so you can prevent your condition from getting worse.

Keep your elbow in a neutral position. Move it only as much as is necessary to perform daily activities, such as washing dishes or typing on a keyboard. Don’t swing your arm when you are walking or running, even if that feels good.

Do not use your hands for too many activities that require repetitive motions. For example, don’t wash dishes or cut up food with your fingers.

Don’t play tennis while you have tennis elbow. Tennis elbow is caused by repeated overuse of the elbow joint, and it can make the condition worse.

Use a tennis elbow brace when you play. A tennis elbow brace can help to support your arm and protect it from injuries such as tendinitis or ligament damage that could lead to chronic pain and disability.

Do not lift anything heavy with your arms, including children or pets. This can strain your muscles and increase the risk of injury to your elbow joint.

Use a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) such as ibuprofen or naproxen for pain relief, especially if you have an injury that is causing swelling or inflammation. If you have a flare-up of the tennis elbow, the pain may be severe enough to require a stronger medicine, such as aspirin or acetaminophen (Tylenol). You should not use aspirin in children younger than 12 years old.

Consider getting physical therapy.

Preventing the development of tennis elbow

Prevention is the best way to avoid tennis elbow.

Don’t play tennis if you have symptoms of elbow pain or tenderness. If your symptoms are severe enough, stop playing for at least two weeks before returning to the court as you need to give your elbow time to speed up healing.

Keep your elbows in a neutral position while you are playing. This will help to avoid painful or injured muscles and tendons.

Use your elbow joint correctly by following the instructions for correct use of your arm from the description above.

When you get older, strengthen your triceps muscle (the muscle on the back of your upper arm) to help prevent tennis elbow. This can be done by doing exercises such as push-ups, dips, and curls that work the triceps muscle in a controlled manner without overworking it.

Warm up before you play each day to get ready for the game. Warm up with light activity for 5 to 10 minutes before you play. This will help to prevent injury and keep your muscles loose and strong.

Keep in shape by playing tennis regularly, especially if you are over 40 years old or have been inactive for a long time (longer than a year).

Be careful with your grip. The more you squeeze the racquet, the more pressure is put on your elbow and forearm muscles.

Get regular medical checkups to make sure that your elbow is not injured or getting worse. If it is getting worse, stop playing tennis and get medical help.

Don’t play with your arm bent more than 90 degrees. Playing this way puts extra pressure on the tendons, which can cause tennis elbow.


Tennis elbow is a common injury that can happen to anyone who plays tennis. It happens when the muscles and tendons in your forearm become inflamed, causing pain and stiffness.

You can prevent this from happening by warming up before playing, using your arm correctly while you play, strengthening your triceps muscle (the muscle on the back of your upper arm), getting regular medical checkups to make sure that your elbow is not injured or getting worse, and by playing tennis regularly.


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