Lateral Epicondylitis (Tennis Elbow)
UW Health's Sports Medicine doctors in Madison, Wisconsin, treat a wide range of common athletic injuries, including lateral epicondylitis, better known as tennis elbow.
About Lateral Epicondylitis
Lateral epicondylitis, or tennis elbow, is a term used to describe pain on the outside of the elbow (along the lateral epicondyle of the humerus) where the forearm tendons attach. This condition is not exclusive to tennis players. Other activities (i.e. racquetball, hammering and typing) that require repetitive, forceful movements of the wrist and forearm, especially while strongly gripping an object, can lead to lateral epicondylitis.
Signs and Symptoms
Tennis elbow has many sign and symptoms, including:
- Tenderness on the outside of the elbow (lateral epicondyle)
- Pain while strongly gripping an object
- Pain with turning the palm upward, such as opening a doorknob
In order to diagnose this condition, a medical provider will perform a physical examination of the wrist, forearm, elbow and upper arm. X-rays may also be needed to assess for arthritis or other conditions in the elbow. Further imaging, such as an MRI, is not used frequently but may be indicated to get a detailed image of the tendons, ligaments and cartilage in the elbow joint if initial treatment does not improve symptoms.
Also, an ultrasound is a less expensive diagnostic tool than an MRI and may be utilized to evaluate soft tissue structures such as tendons. In addition, a physician may order a therapeutic injection to be performed by a radiologist using the ultrasound, which aids in determining the appropriate site of injection.
Several treatment options exist for individuals with tennis elbow, including:
- Decreasing the intensity and frequency of any activities that make symptoms worse
- Stretching the wrist before and after any activities that make symptoms worse
- Strengthening the wrist and forearm muscles, using low weight and high repetitions
- Icing before and after any activities that make symptoms worse to decrease pain and inflammation
- Wearing an elbow strap below the painful area during any activities that make symptoms worse to decrease pain and inflammation
- Wearing a wrist splint that limits wrist motion and allows the injured tissues to rest and heal
- Taking anti-inflammatory medication as prescribed by a physician
- Participating in a formal rehabilitation program that may include exercise, manual therapy and iontophoresis
- Receiving a corticosteroid injection, which is usually considered if more conservative treatment is not successful with reducing/eliminating symptoms
- Stopping the use of tobacco to help with tissue healing
- Receiving Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP) injections, which typically are considered with chronic or prolonged symptoms that do not get better with more conservative treatment options
- Undergoing surgery to remove the degenerative tissue where the tendon attaches to the lateral epicondyle. This is only considered if all other treatment approaches are unsuccessful