Tennis elbow: why does it happen and what works to treat it?

Tennis elbow treatment

Wimbledon is over for another year and if it’s inspired you to take up the racquet, here’s everything you need to know about tennis elbow, a very common condition that unfortunately is not restricted to the world’s top players. In fact, it’s estimated that it affects between 1 and 3% of the UK population every year and it is the most common cause of persistent elbow pain, accounting for two-thirds of all elbow issues.

Tennis elbow, known medically as lateral epicondylitis, is a very painful condition that occurs when the elbow tendons are overloaded, usually by repetitive motions of the extensor muscles. So, as well as athletes, it can affect those in certain occupations, particularly manual labour. Age is another risk factor as it predominantly affects those between 30 and 50.

Pain usually occurs where the tendons of your forearm muscles are attached to the bone on the outside of the elbow. Pain will then spread down your forearm and into the wrist.

Tennis elbow can either be the result of a sudden action such as an unnatural twist or unexpected blow, causing a larger tear in a tendon that is always under strain. Alternatively, this constant strain over time can result in microscopic and macroscopic tears in the tissue.

Common symptoms of tennis elbow include:

  • Localised pain in the wrist and elbow
  • Pain gets worse at night
  • Muscle weakness
  • Swollen, tender elbow joint
  • Arm stiffness
  • Weakened grip
  • Often sharp pain when performing daily tasks

How do I treat tennis elbow?

Prevention is often the best defence by strengthening the relevant muscles and using supportive equipment when you are performing repetitive motions.

If a tear in the tendon occurs, then allow it to heal and take a break from any activities that put it under strain and wear a supportive brace. Pain and discomfort are usually managed with over-the-counter painkillers. Steroid joint injections can relieve pain and inflammation.

Dr Charlie Middle at the Wessex Private GP can order diagnostic tests such as ultrasound, MRI or CT scans to assess tendon and muscle damage. He can also refer you to specialists, for both non-surgical and surgical treatment. Get in touch to book an appointment at Wessex Private GP