What is tennis elbow (lateral epicondylitis)?

The condition affects the outer side (lateral) of the elbow, it is often felt to be painful where the tendon attaches to the bone (epicondyle). Previously this was thought to be due to inflammation, but is now thought to be due to overuse causing the tendon to thicken and degenerate.

What causes tennis elbow?

Tennis elbow can develop as a result of any repetitive stress at the junction between the muscle and the tendon, and where the tendon inserts onto the bone. Common activities include repetitive heavy lifting, use of heavy tools, racquet sports and DIY.

Symptoms of tennis elbow

The main symptom of tennis elbow is pain which comes from the outside of the elbow, and can radiate to the forearm, and as far as the wrist. This symptom is typically more pronounced when you are moving the arm to lift, grasp or reach for an object. Other people may experience a more constant pain.

Treatment options for tennis elbow

Tennis elbow is naturally self-limiting but may take one to two years to settle, treatments can be useful to manage pain whilst the condition settles. Activity modification can play a key role, along with advice from a physiotherapist on how to gradually strengthen the tendons without overloading them. Wearing an elbow brace or splint is a recommended treatment for some people.

When conservative treatments have proven ineffective in treating tennis elbow, there are injection procedures that may help. These include a dry needling procedure or a steroid injection to offer pain relief and reduce inflammation.

Surgical treatment is considered for patients who have no relief from the less invasive treatment options, and would not be advised until conservative treatments have been tried for a period of at least six months. Surgery involves releasing the tendons from their origin on the bone and removing any inflamed tissue or scar tissue that is present and reattaching the tendons to the bone.

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